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.
The northern Spanish region of Galicia is not the first place many people think of when considering Spanish wines. Admittedly, the region does not enjoy the fine weather of La Rioja, or the excellent soils of Catalunya, and the Atlantic Ocean often brings strong winds and heavy rainfall. However, the Galicians have been producing wines in their region for centuries, and wineries which operate there know how to get the most out of their grape varietals in order to bring to the world characterful, flavorful and quintessentially Galician wines. Most of Galicia's produce is blended, taking fine grape varietals such as Albarino, and carefully balancing them against other grapes in order to produce something truly special. Whilst the wine production in Galicia is still relatively small, great efforts are being made to ensure that the world once more rediscovers this special and unique part of Spain, and the wonderful wines they produce.
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.