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
Whilst Champagne sparkling wines are most commonly made with a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grape varietals, there are actually seven fine grape varietals allowed by French wine law for inclusion in the wines of this region. These include Arbanne, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and and Petit Meslier alongside the others, although these four are being used less and less in the modern age. Champagnes are normally blended wines, although the popularity of single variety 'blanc de blanc' Champagnes made solely with Chardonnay grapes, and 'blanc de noir' wines made only with Pinot Noir varietal grapes are becoming more and more popular. The blending process found in most Champagnes aims to take the finest points of each grape varietal and bring them together to produce spectacular, strong yet balanced results in the bottle.
Burgenland in eastern Austria is affectionately known as the country's 'red wine quarter', due to the fact that, unlike in the rest of the country, the vineyards of Burgenland are used almost exclusively for the cultivation of fine red wine grapes. This is partly due to the fact that the easternmost region of Austria, close to the Slovakian and Hungarian border, receives far more sunshine than the rest of the country. Alongside this, Burgenland is close to the country's great lakes, resulting in plenty of warmth and moisture which helps grape varietals such as Pinot Noir, Zwiegelt and Blaufrankisch reach full ripeness each year, and allows them to express much of their fine and unique terroir. Burgenland's wines are elegant, flavorful and perfect for those seeking something a little different.
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.