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.
Despite being one of Italy's smallest wine regions, the central Italian region of Umbria is a vitally important one, and home to many of the country's finest and most historic wines and wineries. The reputation of Umbrian wines may have suffered in the 1970s, along with the produce of much of the rest of the country, but the 1980s and 1990s saw significant efforts made by vintners when it came to improving their produce and overall image. By consulting international oenologists, the wineries of Umbria were able to update their traditional techniques, and produce considerably finer wines from their Sangiovese grapes, as well as from imported varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. Indeed, the barrel fermented white wines of Umbria, now made with a blend of Chardonnay and Grechetto varietal grapes, has gone on to be something of a flagship product for the region, and is regarded as one of the best and most characterful white wines in Italy.
Italy is recognised as being one of the finest wine producing countries in the world, and it isn't difficult to see why. With a vast amount of land across the country used primarily for vineyard cultivation and wine production, each region of Italy manages to produce a wide range of excellent quality wines, each representative of the region it is produced in. Any lover of Italian wines will be able to tell you of the variety the country produces, from the deliciously astringent and alpine-fresh wines of the northern borders, to the deliciously jammy and fruit-forward wines of the south and the Italian islands. Regions such as Barolo are frequently compared with Bordeaux and Burgundy in France, as their oak aged red wines have all the complexity and earthy, spicy excellence of some of the finest wines in the world, and the sparkling wines of Asti and elsewhere in Italy can easily challenge and often exceed the high standards put forward by Champagne. Thanks to excellent terrain and climatic conditions, Italy has long since proven itself a major player in the world of wines, and long may this dedication to quality and excellence continue.