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.
In its native Italy, Sangiovese is the most widely planted red grape varietal, and has been for several centuries now. It has since spread to several other countries around the world, but will probably always been most readily associated with the rolling hillscapes of Tuscany. It isn't difficult to understand why it is so revered; alone, in single variety bottles, young Sangiovese is lively, full of fresh summer fruits flavors and beautifully drinkable in its lightness. When aged, it has the special ability to soak up the oak and vanilla or chestnut flavors from the barrel, and delights wine drinkers with its complexity and many layers of character. However, the grape does occasionally cause some difficulty for wine makers, as it is one which holds a high acidity, whilst being light on tannins and body. As such, wine makers have experimented greatly with the Sangiovese grapes, from harvesting very low yields to blending it and aging it in different ways in order to make the most of its unique properties. The results are rarely short of spectacular, and Sangiovese is widely recognized as a grape varietal to look out for if you are searching for quality.
The region of Umbria in central Italy is one of the country's most interesting wine regions, as well as being one of the most ancient. Umbria was home to many of the Roman's finest wines, and ancient civilizations such as the Romans were quick to recognize the potential a small region such as Umbria had, with its rolling, lush green hillsides, long hot summers and cooler ripening periods. Today, the region has a strong and characterful wine industry, with wineries in Umbria keen to experiment with blending together native grape varietals such as Sangiovese and Grechetto with imported Bordeaux varietals, in order to produce truly unique and exceedingly delicious wines. Tradition still plays an important role in Umbria, however, and wineries in the region are keen to use modern techniques alongside their time honored methods in order to produce the best wines possible.
It isn't difficult to understand why Italy is famed not just for the quality of its wines, but also for the vast variety and range of characteristics found in the wines there. The terrain of the country varies wildly, from the lush rolling green hills and valley of Tuscany, to the sun drenched rocky coasts of Sicily, the mountainous and alpine regions of the north, and the marshy lowlands of the east. Italy really does have a little bit of everything. Combine this huge range of landscapes with an almost perfect climate for grape cultivation, and you have a country seemingly designed for viticultural excellence. The results speak for themselves, and it is clear to see that wine has become an inseparable part of Italian culture as a result of its abundance and brilliance. Each village, city and region has a local wine perfectly matched with the cuisine of the area, and not an evening passes without the vast majority of Italian families raising a glass of locally sourced wine with pride and pleasure.