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.
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 most of Australia consists of arid deserts and dense bushland, the oceanic coasts to the south of the country have a terrain and climate ideal for vine cultivation and wine production. It took several decades of failed attempts at the end of the 18th century in order to produce vines of a decent enough quality for making wine, but since those first false starts, the Australian wine industry has continued to grow and grow. Today, wine production makes up for a considerable part of the Australian economy, with exports in recent years reaching unprecedented levels and even overtaking France for the first time ever. Whilst the greatest successes in regards to quality have been the result of the Syrah grape varietal (known locally as Shiraz), Australia utilizes several Old World grapes, and has had fantastic results from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay and more. As the Australian passion for locally produced wine continues to develop, wineries have begun experimenting with a wider range of grape varietals, meaning that nowadays it isn't uncommon to find high quality Australian wines made from Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Viognier, amongst many others.