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.
The pale skinned fruits of the Riesling grapevine have been grown in and around Germany's Rhine Valley for centuries, and contributed much to the country's wine culture. Today, Riesling grapes are grown and processed in several countries around the world, where they are prized for their ability to grow well in colder climates, and their unique flavors and characteristics. Riesling grapes produce an impressive array of wines, including fine semi sweet and dessert wines, to excellent dry white wines and sparkling varieties, all which allow the grape to shine through as a premier example of an excellent white wine varietal. One of the things which makes Riesling such a special grape is the fact that it is highly 'terroir expressive', meaning that the features of the land it is grown on can come across well in the flavors and aromas in the wine. As such, it isn't unusual to find flavors of white stone, or smoky ash-like notes in a fine Riesling alongside the more usual orchard fruit flavors more commonly associated with good white wines.
When it comes to Austrian wine, the one region which is widely considered to stand head and shoulders above the rest is the Wachau. Located in the beautiful lower parts of the country, along the banks of the mighty river Danube, the vineyards of Wachau have been producing high quality white and red wines for centuries, and were once considered amongst the finest in Europe. Indeed, during the heights of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Wachau wines were amongst the favorites of the crowned heads of Europe, and they remain popular today with those seeking the ultimate in elegance and refinement. The vast majority of wines made in the Wachau region are produced from the grapes of the Gruner Veltliner and Riesling varietals, two grapes which are perfectly suited to the climatic conditions and soil type of the region.
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.