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.
In the Rhone region of France, one of the most ancient and highly esteemed grape varietals is the Viognier, a green-skinned grape famed and admired for its highly aromatic qualities and delicious fruit-forward nature. The wine it produces is remarkably pale, and is a popular choice with those looking for an extremely elegant wine to be enjoyed in hot weather and paired with equally aromatic foods. The Viognier varietal is known for having an extremely floral nose, which gives an impression of summery sweetness over a wine which is usually dry, although it is occasionally given over to noble rot in order to intensify its sugars. Viognier grapes can be successfully blended with several other grape varietals, as they are in certain New World countries, and can also be aged to produce exceptionally crisp and dry white wines.
The central Italian region of Tuscany is widely understood to be one of the world's most famous and highly regarded wine regions. The beautiful rolling hillsides and medieval towns and castles which are a key feature of the area are also home to many of Europe's finest wineries, and extremely high quality vineyards growing the distinctive Sangiovese and Vernaccia grape varietals which are the flavorful backbone of Tuscany's wonderful red and white wines. For almost three thousand years, this region has been recognized as an ideal home for wine production on a large scale, and the ancient Etruscans, Greeks and Romans all noticed that fine grape varietals flourished on the unique soils and under the hot sunshine which typifies the area. Today, Tuscany is home to a wide range of wines, from the traditional to the complex, but all dedicated to excellent flavors and aromas, and maintaining the region's international reputation.
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.