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: Champagne Blend
The careful blending of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietal grapes has long been the secret to the success of the famous sparkling wines of the Champagne region. The wines of this region have gone down in history as the finest example of France's sparkling produce, and the methods of processing the grapes in this region have been imitated in almost every wine producing country in the world. There are actually seven different grape varietals allowed to be included in a Champagne sparkling wine, although grape varietals such as Pinot Blanc, Arbanne and Pinot Gris are used less and less commonly in its production. Whilst the Chardonnay varietal grapes offer their distinctive biscuit flavor and wonderful astringency, it is the Pinot Noir grapes (most commonly used for producing beautifully light red wines) which give the Champagne wines their length and backbone.
Austria's wine industry has long been based around the country's excellent white wines, the grapes of which grow in abundance across the vineyards in the lowlands, and in the hilly regions around the nation's capital of Vienna. However, Austria also has a strong, if small, red wine industry, based on the superb Pinot Noir, Zwiegelt and Blaufrankisch grapes which flourish in the sun-drenched vineyards in Burgenland, in the very east of the country and close to the Hungarian border. Here, the massive Austrian lakes provide plenty of moisture for the grapes, and the fine and sunny climate help the fruit reach full ripeness each year, and allow the grapes to express much of their wonderful terroir. The characterful and flavorful red wines of Burgenland have been popular for centuries, and remain an intriguing aspect of Austrian wine to this day.
Austria has a wonderfully long and illustrious history of wine production which stretches back over four thousand years, and reached its zenith under the Austria-Hungary dual monarchy in the late 19th century, when Vienna was one of the most important centers of culture and fine living in the world. Today, Austria's fertile soils and long, hot summers help the fifty thousand hectares of vineyards in the country achieve exceptionally high quality yields, which are used primarily for the production of the elegant dry white wines for which the country is renowned. The most important grape varietal is still GrÃ¼ner Veltliner, although many wineries are beginning to expand their repertoire and experiment with many imported grapes from France and further afield, including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.