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.
Although primarily associated with the Rhone region of France, the precise origins of the Viognier grape variety are unknown, and the subject of much debate. However, these fine and delicate green skinned grapes are an important varietal for many of France's most elegant white wines, and they are quickly beginning to spread around the New World, too, where wineries are discovering their unique qualities and unusual character. Viognier grapes are notoriously difficult to grow, due to the fact they are highly susceptible to mildew, but wineries persevere with them nonetheless, producing wines which are highly aromatic and have a great, fruit-forward character. Their delicate aroma suggests sweetness due to its flowery, sappy nature, but the wine itself generally very dry and crisp, and full of summery, light and refined qualities.
Portugal has been an important center for wine production ever since the Phoenicians and Carthaginians discovered that the many native grape varietals that grow in the country could be cultivated for making excellent wines. After all, Portugal has something of an ideal wine producing climate and terrain; lush green valleys, dry, rocky mountainsides and extremely fertile soil helped by long, hot summers and Atlantic winds. Today, such a climate and range of terroir produces an impressive variety of wines, with the best wines said to be coming out of the Douro region, the Alentejo and the Colares region near Lisbon. Portugal has an appellation system two hundred years older than France's, and much effort is made by regulating bodies to ensure that the quality of the country's produce remains high, and the wines remain representative of the regions they are grown in.