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.
Situated in the north-western part of Italy, the region of Piedmont is known worldwide and is highly respected for the quality of the wines produced there. Many of the most successful sub-regions in Piedmont produce many of the world's finest red wines, such as those made from the excellent Nebbiolo grape varietal in areas such as Barolo and Barbaresco. However, the historic wineries which typify this region use a relatively wide variety of grapes, including Dolcetto and Barbera for their red wines, which are typically aged and have a delightful velvety character. Piedmont isn't all about beautifully complex red wines, though, as it is also famed for high quality, elegant sparkling wines, notably the Asti wines made with the white Moscato grape. The region benefits from a range of terroirs which are often well expressed in the sparkling wines, and a wonderfully consistent climate ideal for vineyard cultivation.
Italy is recognised as being one of the finest wine producing countries in the world, and it isn't difficult to see why. With a vast amount of land across the country used primarily for vineyard cultivation and wine production, each region of Italy manages to produce a wide range of excellent quality wines, each representative of the region it is produced in. Any lover of Italian wines will be able to tell you of the variety the country produces, from the deliciously astringent and alpine-fresh wines of the northern borders, to the deliciously jammy and fruit-forward wines of the south and the Italian islands. Regions such as Barolo are frequently compared with Bordeaux and Burgundy in France, as their oak aged red wines have all the complexity and earthy, spicy excellence of some of the finest wines in the world, and the sparkling wines of Asti and elsewhere in Italy can easily challenge and often exceed the high standards put forward by Champagne. Thanks to excellent terrain and climatic conditions, Italy has long since proven itself a major player in the world of wines, and long may this dedication to quality and excellence continue.