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
One of the most commonly planted and cultivated white wine grape varietals in the world is the Sauvignon Blanc. This green skinned grape originated in southern France, where it is still grown today and produced into exceptionally high quality wines. However, it is also very much a varietal of the New World, and can be found almost anywhere with the correct climatic conditions for it to thrive in. Generally, Sauvignon Blanc grapes prefer cooler climates, and benefit best from an early harvest. Too much exposure to heat causes the juices inside the fruit to lose much of their character, and results in flat, uninteresting wines devoid of the grapes' usual bite and crispiness. In many countries, Sauvignon Blanc grape juices are aged in barrels, and are allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation, which transforms this dry and refreshing, zesty and fruity white wine into something far mellower, more buttery and refined.
Umbria in central Italy is one of the country's smallest wine regions, and is often overlooked due to its proximity to Tuscany. However, Umbria specialises in using its stunning Tuscany-esque terroir â€“ all rolling hillsides and lush, green vineyards â€“ to their full potential, and producing stunning wines of character and distinction for extremely reasonable prices. In particular, Umbria is renowned as something of a home of innovative Italian wine making, taking native varietals such as Sangiovese and Grechetto, and blending them with Bordeaux red and white wine grapes in order to produce spectacular aged, blended wines. By taking traditional viticultural practices, and shaking them up a bit, Umbria is quickly discarding its former poor reputation, and proving that it is a wine region to watch and explore.
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.