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: Cabernet Sauvignon
Since their conception in 18th century France, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes have flourished across the Old and New Worlds and have changed the way we think about red wine forever. Their sharp and astringent nature has a wonderful ability to mellow and round with age, and when helped by being blended with Merlot and Petit Verdot or Cabernet Franc varietals â€“ as is done in Bordeaux and elsewhere â€“ the results can be truly remarkable. What is most special about Cabernet Sauvignon grapes is the fact that they have a true affinity for oak, and when aged in barrels made of this fragrant wood, the wine which comes out of them a few years later holds an amazing array of flavors and aromas, making Cabernet Sauvignon based wines some of the most memorable in the world. Single variety bottles from the New World made from this grape are also increasing in popularity, as the strong flavors and full-bodied nature of these wines is a great match for many global cuisines.
The beautiful island of Sicily has been growing grapevines and producing wines for thousands of years, ever since the ancient Greeks first landed on its golden shores and noticed the island's true potential as a haven for quality grapes. Today, the island is one of Italy's primary wine regions, and even though over eighty percent of Sicily's grapevines are used for the production of sweet fortified wines, the remaining wineries making other wine styles are renowned around the world for their quality and character. Indeed, Sicilian wineries are famed for their ability to capture something of the sun-drenched region in their wines, and the vines they cultivate benefit enormously from the almost constant sunshine and the incredibly fertile volcanic soils which typify the island.
There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' â€“ the land of wines â€“ so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it.