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
Gruner Veltliner is a pale skinned white wine grape varietal most closely associated with central European countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In recent years, it has spread somewhat to several New World countries, where it is becoming gradually more popular and regularly seen in wine stores. One of the main attractions of this grape varietal for winemakers is the fact that it is highly versatile, and can be used for the production of several different wine styles, including young, dry white wines, excellent sparkling wines, and it is also a grape varietal which is well suited for aging Gruner Veltliner has the ability to express much of its terroir, and the best examples are generally those which are full of delightfully mineral-rich flavors alongside the more usual notes of citrus fruits and peach.
The ancient and grand wine region of Wachau is by far the most well known and respected of all the Austrian wine regions. With a history which has survived through the rising and falling of empires, the wineries of Wachau have always been dedicated to quality and refinement, and were once producing many of the favorite wines of the European aristocracy and royal families. Today, the wineries of Wachau deal primarily with Gruner Veltliner and Riesling grape varietals, two wonderful species which are renowned for their ability to take on the finer features of their terroir, and express plenty of interesting flavors in the bottle. These, amongst several other grape varietals, thrive beautifully in the long, hot summers the region enjoys, and ripen fully thanks to the mineral rich soils the Danube river provides.
Archaeological evidence suggests that grapevines have been grown and cultivated in what is today modern Austria for over four thousand years, making it one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world. Over the centuries, relatively little has changed in Austrian wine, with the dominant grape varietals continuing to be GrÃ¼ner Veltliner, Zweigelt, Pinot Noir and others. Austria is renowned for producing excellent and characterful dry white wines, although in the eastern part of the country, many wineries specialist in sweeter white wines made in a similar style to those of neighboring Hungary. Today, Austria has over fifty thousand hectares under vine, split over four key wine regions. The domestic wine industry remains strong, with Austrians drinking their local produce outside in the summer, and people around the world are beginning to once more rediscover this fascinating and ancient wine culture.