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 Muscat grape has been grown and cultivated for centuries all over Europe, and in more recent years has become something of a flagship varietal for many New World countries. It is widely admired for its versatility and for the fact that it can be successfully used for the production of many different styles and types of wine. In eastern and central Europe, it is most commonly associated with elegant sweet dessert wines, further west it is used for bright and strong dry white wines, and it is also famous for the superb sparkling wines it produces, full of elegant bubbles and a mineral-rich flavor which compliments its natural 'grapey' character. Muscat grapes are generally agreed to be one of the oldest varietals in the world, and this goes some way to explaining the seemingly vast differences the fruit shows in various parts of the world.
For hundreds of years, the beautiful alpine region of Piedmont in north-west Italy has been producing excellent quality red wines, and some of the most characterful sparkling white wines to have ever come out of the Old World. The region is dominated by the mighty Alps which form the border between Italy, France and Switzerland, and the Moscato grapes that are grown in the foothills of this mountain range carry much of the Alps' flavors in their fruit, and are fed by crystal clear mountain waters. However, it is the Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera grapes which are the real stars of this region, and the highly respected wineries which cover much of Piedmont have generations of experience when it comes to processing and aging these grape varietals to produce the superb wines which come out of appellations such as Barolo and Barberesco.
For several decades in the mid to late twentieth century, Italy's reputation for quality wines took a fairly serious blow. This was brought about partly due to lack of regulation in certain regions, and too much regulation in others. This led to several wineries in the beautiful and highly fertile region of Tuscany making the bold move to work outside of the law, which they saw as responsible for the drop in quality in Tuscan wines. They believed that they had the expertise and the generations of experience necessary with which to make truly excellent, world class wines, and set about doing just that. These 'Super Tuscans', as they came to be known, quickly inspired the rest of Italy to improve their produce, and now, Italian wine producers in the twenty-first century are widely recognised to be amongst the best in the world. Regulation and law began to change, and wine drinkers across the globe woke up to the outstanding wines coming out of Italy, which are continuing to improve and impress to this day.