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: Tocai Friulano
The Tocai Fruiliano grape varietal has been grown in and around the northern regions of Italy for centuries, and is still widely praised for its distinctive character and beautiful set of flavors and aromas. Despite the name, the Tocai Fruiliano varietal is not actually related to the famous Tokaji grapes of Hungary, or the Tokay d'Alsace grapes, but is actually the same species as Sauvignon Vert. Wines made from the Tocai Fruiliano grape are generally a pale straw yellow in color, and are recognizable by their aroma of wild flowers and orchard fruits such as pears. The flavor of the wines varies from vineyard to vineyard, and the Tocai Fruiliano grape is renowned for having a broad set of flavors, although citrus notes are usually detectable in most bottles.
Region: Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Friuli-Venezia Giulia is an important Italian wine region, situated high in the northernmost parts of the country, and close to the Slovenian and Austrian borders. As such, there is a considerable Germanic influence on the wines of this region, with varietals such as Riesling growing alongside Italian classics such as Pinot Grigio. The finest wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia are considered to be those which capture the alpine essence of the region, with its pine scented terroirs and crystal mountain waters which run down from the mountains. There are also several interesting lesser known grape varietals processed in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, which gives the region a unique wine culture which the local wine makers are immensely proud of, and which makes the region a fascinating one to explore.
There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' â€“ the land of wines â€“ so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it.