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
There are few wine regions of the world with as much influence or fame as that of Champagne in France. The sparkling wines from this special area have long been associated with excellence and magnificent flavors, and much of their success has been down to the careful blending of fine grape varietals in order to achieve spectacular results. Most commonly, Champagne wines use both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietal grapes in more or less equal measures, often boosted by a small quantity of Pinot Meunier for extra bite. The Chardonnay varietal grapes offer their acidity and flavor to the bottle, and help with the dryness associated with quality in this type of wine. The Pinot Noir, on the other hand, gives strength to the wine, and gives Champagne its distinctive 'length' of character.
The ancient Austrian wine region of Burgenland has been home to the country's red wine industry for centuries, and historically, this region was considered enormously important under the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, as its fine red wines were the toast of many aristocratic banquets and formal occasions. Unlike the rest of Austria, Burgenland receives an impressive amount of sunshine, meaning vintners can confidently grow their Pinot Noir, Zwiegelt and Blaufrankisch grapes to full ripeness, and rely on them expressing much of their beautiful terroir in the bottle. The region's closeness to some enormous Austrian lakes also means that the vineyards can remain moist and well hydrated, again resulting in the region's flavorful and characterful red wines which remain popular with those seeking something fine and unique to this day.
For over four thousand years, Austria has been home to some of Europe's finest wines, with a strong domestic wine industry which is beginning to be once again recognized for its world class quality. All over the eastern part of the country, and even in the capital, Vienna, small wineries are working with the grape varietals which flourish in the country's hot summer climate and mineral rich soils, fed by the Danube and other great rivers which cross the flat lands of this part of Austria. Most commonly, wineries work with the GrÃ¼ner Veltliner grapes which grow so well here, and produce the dry and elegant white wines which typify Austria's viticultural produce. However, many other fine grape varietals are grown and used for a wide range of wine styles, including some extremely interesting sweet white wines similar to those found in neighboring Hungary.