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.
Victoria is one of Australia's oldest and most important wine regions, having been involved in vineyard cultivation for well over a century. Indeed, in the mid 19th century, it was the home of the Australian wine industry, with thousands of hectares of vineyards and plenty of wineries producing vast quantities of wine. Today, the wine scene in Victoria is somewhat different, as despite the huge number of wineries, the output is relatively very small. The reason for this is because Victoria now produces wines made from grapes of vines which have far lower yields, often resulting in higher quality rather than quantity wines. The cool and coastal regions around the city of Melbourne are respected around the world for their excellent terroir, and prized grapes such as Viognier, and many others, grow exceedingly well there.
Whilst every Australian state has some level of wine production, it is in South Australia and on the island of Tasmania where the finest wines are made to the highest quantities. Here, the scorching Australian sun is a little tamer, and the heat is tempered by brisk oceanic winds, making the climate of these regions ideal for vineyard cultivation. The Tamar Valley on Tasmania has been making waves internationally in recent years, as both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grape varietals are thriving there and resulting in hugely flavorful wines, which are at once distinctly Australian, yet remain unique and interesting enough to surprise and impress. Elsewhere in the country, the Syrah grape (known locally as Shiraz) reigns supreme, as the long, hot summers allow these grapes to ripen fully and lend their intensely fruit-forward character to the ruby red Australian wines, which have such international appeal.