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 sparkling wines of Champagne have been revered by wine drinkers for hundreds of years, and even today they maintain their reputation for excellence of flavor and character, and are consistently associated with quality, decadence, and a cause for celebration. Their unique characteristics are partly due to the careful blending of a small number of selected grape varietals, most commonly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These grapes, blended in fairly equal quantities, give the wines of Champagne their wonderful flavors and aromas, with the Pinot Noir offering length and backbone, and the Chardonnay varietal giving its acidity and dry, biscuity nature. It isn't unusual to sometimes see Champagne labeled as 'blanc de blanc', meaning it is made using only Chardonnay varietal grapes, or 'blanc de noir', which is made solely with Pinot Noir.
As with much of coastal Australia, Victoria is something of an ideal location for viticulture. Situated on the south west coast of the country, across the sea from Tasmania, the Victoria wine industry has been going strong for well over a century. While Victoria was once the beating heart of the Australian wine scene, it is now only the third most productive region in the country. However, the hundreds of wineries in Victoria are renowned for their dedication to quality over quantity, and their willingness to experiment not only with the latest viticultural technologies, but also with a wide range of imported grape varietals. As such, alongside the ever-present 'Australian' grapes such as Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, you're just as likely to find Viognier and SÃ©millon in Victoria, making it an exciting and fascinating region for wine makers and wine drinkers alike.
Despite much of Australia being covered by dry, arid deserts and bushland, the southern regions of the country and islands such as Tasmania have proved to be ideal for vineyard cultivation and wine production. The fertile soils and brisk oceanic breezes, coupled with the blazing Australian sunshine allow the grapes to grow to full ripeness before a late harvest, resulting in hugely flavorful wines which appeal to a wide international audience. Combine this with the experimental and daring approach Australian wineries have in regards to wine production, and it becomes clear why Australia has relatively quickly become something of a world leader when it come to exporting their produce to Europe and America. The Shiraz and Chardonnay grape varietals have produced the most successful and broadly appreciated results over the decades, however, in more recent years wineries have begun experimenting with a much wider range of grape varietals, demonstrating how Australian wineries are continuing to adapt and develop alongside international palates.