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: Pinot Gris
The rise in popularity of Pinot Grigio (also known as Pinot Gris) wines over the past decade has led to this particular grape varietal being planted in many countries around the world in enormous quantities. These grapes range in color from grayish blue to lilac and amber, and with many shades in between. However, they are most prized for their wide range of flavors and aromas, and their relatively high level of 'transparency', or the ability to put across elements of their terroir in the bottle. The Pinot Grigio varietal also has a relatively high natural sugar content, which means that wineries have plenty of scope when it comes to processing their juices, resulting in semi-sweet Pinot Grigio wines, or very lean, crisp and dry examples depending on how much fermentation has been allowed.
Although most commonly associated with excellent Sauvignon Blanc wines, the Marlborough region of New Zealand has also consistently proven that it is capable of growing extremely high quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varietals, thus helping the country's wine industry grow in size and range. The region is an exceptionally good one for growing excellent grapes, the climatic conditions allow wineries to extend the ripening times of the fruit, and the result is fruit which is packed full of bright, strong flavors and able to express the finer features of the terroir it grows on. Since the 1970s, Marlborough has greatly impressed the world with its superb wines, and this special region now accounts for over sixty percent of the area of New Zealand under vine.
Country: New Zealand
New Zealand is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful and ecologically diverse countries in the world, and the wines which are produced there are a fine representation of this diversity and overall quality. With beautifully long and warm summers, a brisk oceanic climate and mile upon mile of gently sloping mountainsides, the vineyards which have sprung up there over the past century have brought about truly fantastic results, with wine now contributing a considerable amount to the economy of the country. In recent years, New Zealand wines have won some of the most prestigious awards available in the wine world, with most of the lauded wineries coming from the Auckland region, where there has been considerable effort to replicate the finest wines of the Bordeaux region of France. The Bordeaux grape varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec) all flourish in the mineral rich soil of the region, and the results have been outstanding, marking New Zealand a strong contender for finest New World wine country.