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
Sauvignon Blanc is widely considered to be one of the finest varietals of white wine grapes. The green skinned fruit is notable for ripening relatively early in the year, due to the fact that it prefers milder temperatures and cannot maintain its distinctive flavors in hot climates. As such, it has become a favorite grape varietal for wineries in many very different countries around the world, where it can benefit from brisk, coastal breezes and mild early summers. Sauvignon Blanc is revered for its freshness and zesty character, and generally produces wines which are dry and very crisp on the palate. However, there are a wide variety of wines produced from this wonderfully versatile grape â€“ with many wineries preferring to age the fermented juices in oak, or allowing malolactic fermentation to add a creamier, buttery finish to the grassy and tropical, citrus flavors it often carries.
The small central Italian wine region of Umbria has a wine making history which stretches back over two thousand years, and was considered an important center of viticulture by the Romans, who used the fine soils and excellent climatic conditions in Umbria for the production of their wines. Today, the wine industry in the region remains strong and unique, with the region benefiting enormously from the excellent weather and terroirs which typify the region. Many wineries in Umbria keen to experiment with imported grape varietals, which are often blended and aged with native varietals in order to make highly characterful and delicious wines. In particular, the blended white wines made from Chardonnay and Grechetto grapes are well worth looking out for, as are those made from Sangiovese and imported French varietals.
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.