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: Gruner Veltliner
At the forefront of high quality central European wines is the much admired Gruner Veltliner grape varietal. This pale skinned and highly versatile grape can be used for the production of excellent still white wines, as well as soft, mellow and beautifully aged wines. In many regions around central Europe, winemakers use the Gruner Veltliner to make elegant sparkling wines, which are highly appreciated by wine drinkers for the fact that they have an ability to clearly express the delightfully mineral-rich tones of the terroir the grapes were grown on. Due to the success and pervading popularity of the Gruner Veltliner varietal in many parts of Europe, recent decades have seen this grape being cultivated in several, cooler regions in the New World, to much success.
When it comes to the wines of Austria, it is widely considered that the finest by far are those which come out of the grand and elegant Wachau region in the south of the country. Wachau has been an important wine producing region for over two thousand years, and was originally used by the Romans, who noticed its fine potential for producing characterful and flavorful white and red wines. Wachau benefits enormously from the beautifully sunny and warm climate which it shares with western Hungary, and the ancient and impressive river Danube which runs through it, bringing minerals and much needed nutrients to the vineyards. As such, the Gruner Veltliner and Riesling grapes which cover most of the region's vineyards are able to express some interesting features of their fine terroir, as they ripen slowly and fully under the sun each year.
All over the flat parts of the country in eastern Austria, GrÃ¼ner Veltliner grapevines can be found growing to full ripeness under the blazing summer sunshine the country enjoys. For over four thousand years, Austria has been an important location for wine production, with a strong sense of tradition driving the modern wine industry to this day. Now, the country has over fifty thousand hectares under vine, and wineries are beginning to experiment more and more with imported grape varietals such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, alongside the traditional vines associated with the country. Austria is most commonly known for their excellent dry white wines, which are extremely elegant and generally capable of expressing their fine terroir, making it a fascinating country to explore from a wine drinker's perspective.