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: Sauvignon Blanc
One of the most commonly planted and cultivated white wine grape varietals in the world is the Sauvignon Blanc. This green skinned grape originated in southern France, where it is still grown today and produced into exceptionally high quality wines. However, it is also very much a varietal of the New World, and can be found almost anywhere with the correct climatic conditions for it to thrive in. Generally, Sauvignon Blanc grapes prefer cooler climates, and benefit best from an early harvest. Too much exposure to heat causes the juices inside the fruit to lose much of their character, and results in flat, uninteresting wines devoid of the grapes' usual bite and crispiness. In many countries, Sauvignon Blanc grape juices are aged in barrels, and are allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation, which transforms this dry and refreshing, zesty and fruity white wine into something far mellower, more buttery and refined.
Region: Valle Central
The Valle Central of Chile is widely regarded as being one of the oldest 'New World' wine regions of earth, with a history that extends back over five hundred years to the time of the first European settlers in South America. Whilst they were mainly preoccupied with planting vines for the production of sacramental wines, today, the wine industry of Valle Central has never been stronger. With a wide range of vines flourishing in the region, thanks to the many micro-climates the valley provides, wineries can make the most of their particular location and produce fully ripened grapes of exquisite flavour and character. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Carmenere grow very well all throughout the various areas within Valle Central, and the region is developing a serious reputation for excellence on the world stage.
When the wealthy new landowners of the 19th century began planting large vineyards in the fertile central valleys of Chile, they must have been impressed at how successful the imported Old World grape varietals took to the land. However, such a fact is hardly surprising; with eight months of blazing sunshine coupled with oceanic winds from the west, and crystal clear spring waters from the Andes irrigating the soil, grapes such as Malbec, Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon were given everything they needed to flourish, and more. As the centuries passed, Chilean wineries continued to expand and experiment, resulting in a wide range of wine production methods and techniques, and consistently producing fine quality wines perfect for the international market. Nowadays, Chile is renowned for producing a wide variety of crisp white wines, and juicy, fruity reds enjoyed around the world for their drinkability and flavorful character, making this country very much one of the 'New World', albeit one with a fascinating link to the Old.