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.
Varietal: Champagne Blend
The careful blending of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietal grapes has long been the secret to the success of the famous sparkling wines of the Champagne region. The wines of this region have gone down in history as the finest example of France's sparkling produce, and the methods of processing the grapes in this region have been imitated in almost every wine producing country in the world. There are actually seven different grape varietals allowed to be included in a Champagne sparkling wine, although grape varietals such as Pinot Blanc, Arbanne and Pinot Gris are used less and less commonly in its production. Whilst the Chardonnay varietal grapes offer their distinctive biscuit flavor and wonderful astringency, it is the Pinot Noir grapes (most commonly used for producing beautifully light red wines) which give the Champagne wines their length and backbone.
For thousands of years, Spain's beautiful wine region of Catalunya has been a powerful center of wine production, with much archaeological evidence to suggest that quality vines were being cultivated in the fine Catalan soils many hundreds of years before even the first Roman settlers arrived. The wonderful coastal Mediterranean climate of the region creates an ideal environment for viticulture, and the excellent conditions are improved further by the mineral rich soils which cover much of the region's valleys and hillsides. As a result, the bodegas and wineries which operate in Catalunya are able to grow a wide variety of imported and native grape varietals, and are able to produce their famous sparkling Cava wines in large quantities, alongside the many still red and white wine bottles which are brought out each year to critical acclaim.
From the deep and intense Rioja wines, or the dry and refreshing Ruedas, from Tempranillos to Verdejos, the range and quality of Spanish wines is always going to impress and fascinate. With several thousand years of traditions and expertise leading the way, Spanish wineries are currently producing some of the most flavorful and interesting wines to come out of Europe, striving to overcome the reputation problems the country suffered in the mid to late twentieth century. Despite being one of the largest producers of wine in the world, with billions of bottles being filled each year, Spanish wine producers are more interested in quality over quantity than ever before. The results of this are some truly world class wines rivaling even the finest produce of France in regards to balance, character and flavor, gaining new fans and enthusiasts every day.