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 sparkling wines of Champagne have been revered by wine drinkers for hundreds of years, and even today they maintain their reputation for excellence of flavor and character, and are consistently associated with quality, decadence, and a cause for celebration. Their unique characteristics are partly due to the careful blending of a small number of selected grape varietals, most commonly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These grapes, blended in fairly equal quantities, give the wines of Champagne their wonderful flavors and aromas, with the Pinot Noir offering length and backbone, and the Chardonnay varietal giving its acidity and dry, biscuity nature. It isn't unusual to sometimes see Champagne labeled as 'blanc de blanc', meaning it is made using only Chardonnay varietal grapes, or 'blanc de noir', which is made solely with Pinot Noir.
Spain's stunning coastal region of Catalunya has long since impressed the world with its wide range of excellent wines, the result of a wine history which stretches back to pre-Roman time, and it has been a key stopping point on some of the most ancient wine trade routes on earth. It isn't difficult to understand why Catalunya has had so much influence over the ages â€“ the rich and fertile soils, the heat tempered by Mediterranean breezes, the fine grape varietals which flourish there have all helped establish Catalunya as an important global wine producer. Today, Catalunya is perhaps most famous for its 'methode champenoise' sparkling Cava wines, however, the region's soils support a wide range of grape varietals, and as such, the two hundred or so bodegas in the region produce a large variety of superb wines and wine styles.
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.