The year 2011 was an interesting year for many northern and central European countries, as the weather was more than unpredictable in the spring and summer. However, in most countries, the climatic conditions thankfully settled down in the late summer and fall. The result of this slightly difficult year of weather in France was a set of surprisingly small yields, but overall, these yields were of a higher quality than those harvested in certain previous years. A fantastic set of wines was also made in Italy and Spain, and the Rioja wines - when released - are set to be very good indeed. Austria also had superb year in 2011, with almost fifty percent more grapes being grown and used for their distinctive Gruner Veltliner wines than in the year before. Possibly the European country which had the finest 2011, though, was Portugal, with wineries in the Douro region claiming this year to be one of the best in decades for the production of Port wine, and the bright, young Vinho Verdes wines.
In the New World, the Pacific Northwest saw some of the best weather of 2011, and Washington State and Oregon reportedly had a highly successful year, especially for the cultivation of high quality red wine grapes. Chile and Argentina had a relatively cool year, which certainly helped retain the character of many of their key grape varietals, and should make for some exciting drinking. South Africa had especially good weather for their white wine grape varietals, particularly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and many South African wineries are reporting 2011 as one of their best years in recent memory.
The Tempranillo grape varietal is often referred to as Spain's 'noble grape', and has over the past century been planted in several countries around the world. Tempranillo grapes produce beautiful ruby red wines, packed full of fascinating flavors which range from intensely fruity, to deep, dark and spicy, holding notes of vanilla, tobacco and leather. Their black skins hold plenty of tannins, and as such, they are often blended with other more rounded or brighter wines, to balance out the character and produce some truly exceptional examples. Tempranillo grapes often fall to a wide range of diseases, and are greatly effected by climatic conditions. They tend to grow best, however, in areas with a mixture of heat and bright sunshine, and brisk breezes which can cool the vines.
The vineyards situated around the Douro river in Portugal are amongst the oldest in Europe, and the area has been used for cultivating grapevines for at least two thousand years. As such, this is a region where tradition is strong, and authenticity is key, leading to characterful wines of real quality and uniquely Portuguese flavors. Although the region is most commonly known for its delicious and aromatic fortified wines, wineries and vintners of the Douro also make still red and white wines of great quality, using the many grape varietals which flourish there. Several red and white wine grape varietals grow extremely well in the region, thanks to the long hot summers and mild autumns the Douro enjoys, and each is used to its full potential by vintners with generations of experience and expertise.
One of the oldest regions of Portugal for wine production and vine cultivation is the Bairrada, the lush and clay-rich region responsible for an impressive range of red, white and rosÃ© wines of exceptional quality. As with much of the country, this region benefits from long, hot summers, allowing the grapes to ripen to full maturity and thus carry a wide range of flavors and aromas. However, each region of Portugal produces wines which reach a high level of quality, from the more urbanized regions around Lisbon and Porto, where the famous fortified and Colares wines originate, to the island of Madeira and the Dao river valley, which each have their own distinctive wine cultures. The several thousand years of viticultural history in Portugal has allowed Portuguese wineries to master their own traditional techniques, which are still employed to this day across the country, yielding excellent results for the world to enjoy.