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.
Spain and Portugal were always home to some fantastic quality white wine grape varietals, and amongst the finest is the Albarino. Thought to be a close relative of the French Savagnin grape, the Albarino varietal has been grown in Spain since the 12th century, and has always been revered by Spanish winemakers for its ability to produce white wines of exceptional quality and character. Typically, wines made from the Albarino grape are dry, with a light body and a lovely high level of acidity which cuts through the soft fruit flavors it carries. These grapes produce exceptionally aromatic white wines, and are generally associated with notes of apricot and peach. It often has a slightly bitter quality, as a result of its thick skins and large quantities of pips, but this merely adds to the balance and nature of the wine.
Spain is one of Europe's most ideal wine producing countries, with a wide range of terroirs and ideal climatic conditions for cultivating a fantastic variety of grapevines. However, the region of Galicia suffered a dramatic fall from grace in the 19th century, due to economic downturns which led to vineyards being left untended, and wineries derelict. This was a tragic loss to the wine world, as Galicia had once been an important center for Spanish wine, and one which had considerable influence and popularity due to its excellent range of white and red blended wines. However, the 20th century saw Galician wine making undergo a rebirth, and today, thanks to years of hard work and dedication, Galician wines are back on the shelves, and attracting a lot of attention thanks to their stunning flavors and careful, balanced blends of native fine grape varietals.
Ever since the Phoenicians and Romans brought their knowledge of vine cultivation to Spanish soils, the country's culture has grown alongside wine production, with wine being a vital part of Spanish identity and Spanish traditions. Each region of Spain has a wine quite distinct from the others, and it is produced by smallholders and families as much as it is by large companies and established wineries. From the relatively mild and lush regions of La Rioja to the arid plateaus that surround Madrid, grapes are grown in abundance for the now booming Spanish wine industry, and new laws and regulations have recently been put in place to keep the country's standards high. By combining traditional practices with modern technology, Spanish wineries are continuing to produce distinctive wines of great character, flavor and aroma, with the focus shifting in recent decades to quality over quantity.