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 Douro valley in Portugal has long been one of Europe's most important and unique wine regions, with a history which stretches back over two thousand years to when Pheonician tradesmen and settlers first began planting grapevines in the rich and fertile soil found there. The region itself is something of an ideal location for viticulture, with mineral rich soils and plenty of moisture from the river, alongside long, baking hot summers which help the grapes reach full ripeness. Wineries in the Douro utilize a wide range of grape varietals for their distinctive and characterful wines, including red varietals such as Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cao, and delightful white varietals such as Gouveio and the increasingly popular Viosinho. However, it is for the fortified wines of Porto which Douro is most famous for, and these are widely considered to be amongst the finest fortified wines in the world.
Most of us are quick to associate Portugal primarily with the excellent fortified wines which come out of the Porto area, but there is much more to Portuguese viticulture than just this. Perhaps the most popular still wines the country produces are the varieties from the Vinho Verde region, which uses grapes that do not achieve high doses of sugar, meaning the wines are at their best when young and full of natural, springy fruit flavors The wines of the Douro region have undergone many transformations in their flavor and character over the centuries; once regarded as a bitter wine, the exporters experimented with fortifying the wine with brandy. After several centuries, vintners found a balance in the modern age which is at once reminiscent of Port wine, yet with the structure and character closer to other fine Portuguese wines. Thanks to the appellation system of Portugal and the strict laws governing wine production, Portuguese wines continue to maintain their reputation for quality and the distinctive characteristics they carry.