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: Sauvignon Blanc
Originating in the Bordeaux region of France, the Sauvignon Blanc grape varietal is today found in many different countries around the world. It is a grape which prefers milder temperatures, as too much exposure to heat dulls the juices within the green skinned fruits, leading to wines which are flat and characterless. As such, it is often found in valley regions, or by the coast where it can benefit from cooling oceanic winds before their characteristic early harvest. Indeed, climate appears to be the main variable in regards to the eventual flavor of Sauvignon Blanc wines, and wineries are constantly experimenting with harvesting dates in order to bring out everything from meadow flavors and grassy notes, to citrus and tropical fruit flavors in the bottle. In general, though, Sauvignon Blanc varietal grapes tend to produce wines which are dry, zesty and crisp in their nature, and extremely refreshing when served chilled.
The region of Umbria in central Italy is one of the country's most interesting wine regions, as well as being one of the most ancient. Umbria was home to many of the Roman's finest wines, and ancient civilizations such as the Romans were quick to recognize the potential a small region such as Umbria had, with its rolling, lush green hillsides, long hot summers and cooler ripening periods. Today, the region has a strong and characterful wine industry, with wineries in Umbria keen to experiment with blending together native grape varietals such as Sangiovese and Grechetto with imported Bordeaux varietals, in order to produce truly unique and exceedingly delicious wines. Tradition still plays an important role in Umbria, however, and wineries in the region are keen to use modern techniques alongside their time honored methods in order to produce the best wines possible.
It isn't difficult to understand why Italy is famed not just for the quality of its wines, but also for the vast variety and range of characteristics found in the wines there. The terrain of the country varies wildly, from the lush rolling green hills and valley of Tuscany, to the sun drenched rocky coasts of Sicily, the mountainous and alpine regions of the north, and the marshy lowlands of the east. Italy really does have a little bit of everything. Combine this huge range of landscapes with an almost perfect climate for grape cultivation, and you have a country seemingly designed for viticultural excellence. The results speak for themselves, and it is clear to see that wine has become an inseparable part of Italian culture as a result of its abundance and brilliance. Each village, city and region has a local wine perfectly matched with the cuisine of the area, and not an evening passes without the vast majority of Italian families raising a glass of locally sourced wine with pride and pleasure.