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
Originating in the Bordeaux region of France, the Sauvignon Blanc grape varietal is today found in many different countries around the world. It is a grape which prefers milder temperatures, as too much exposure to heat dulls the juices within the green skinned fruits, leading to wines which are flat and characterless. As such, it is often found in valley regions, or by the coast where it can benefit from cooling oceanic winds before their characteristic early harvest. Indeed, climate appears to be the main variable in regards to the eventual flavor of Sauvignon Blanc wines, and wineries are constantly experimenting with harvesting dates in order to bring out everything from meadow flavors and grassy notes, to citrus and tropical fruit flavors in the bottle. In general, though, Sauvignon Blanc varietal grapes tend to produce wines which are dry, zesty and crisp in their nature, and extremely refreshing when served chilled.
Region: Valle Central
Chile is a fascinating country when it comes to wines and viticulture, and by far the most internationally renowned wine region in the country is the Valle Central. This expansive valley is located close to the Chilean capital of Santiago, and stretches between the Maipo Valley and Maule Valley, a long, winding fault through the mountainous regions of the country which is now almost completely covered by vineyards producing wines of exquisite character. The region itself may well be associated with the 'New World' of wines, but in actual fact, vineyards have been cultivated around the Maipo valley since the 16th century, when settlers from Europe brought vines across the ocean with which to make sacramental wines. A wide range of grape varietals thrive in the hot climate of Valle Central, from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines the country is most famous for, to Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Carmenere.
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.