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.
There are few white wine grape varietals as famous or widely appreciated as the Chardonnay, and with good reason. This highly flexible and adaptable grape quickly became a favorite of wineries due to its fairly neutral character. This neutrality allows the wineries to really show off what they are capable of doing, by allowing features of their terroir or aging process to come forward in the bottle. As well as this, most high quality wineries which produce Chardonnay wines take great efforts to induce what is known as malolactic fermentation, which is the conversion of tart malic acids in the grapes to creamy, buttery lactic acids associated with fine Chardonnay. Whilst the popularity of Chardonnay wines has fluctuated quite a considerable amount over the past few decades, it seems the grape varietal allows enough experimentation and versatility for it always to make a successful comeback.
Australia's Barossa Valley has, over the past few decades, been catapulted to the forefront of Australia's wine industry as a result of the quality produce which is made there, and the dedication the winemakers of the region have for great flavor The original German settlers in the area may have set up the first traditional style vineyards, but today there are plenty of wineries exploring the possibilities of the region and utilizing modern technology to make the most of their vines. The region itself is surprisingly temperate, with hot valley floors and cooler slopes allowing the grape varietals to reach full ripeness. Although the region is most closely associated with Australia's much loved Shiraz grapes, there are now plenty of different varietals being cultivated in the Barossa Valley, and great success has been had with everything from Chardonnay to Semillon, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.
With over sixteen thousand hectares of Australian land now under vine, Australia has become something of a world leader in regards to wine production. One of Australia's key attributes to their success has been their willingness to leave traditional vineyard practices to one side, and develop techniques which are perfectly suited to a New World country. Modern Australian wineries take into consideration the climate and the unique soil types which cover much of their country, and have had fantastic results from cross-breeding programs and blending practices which make the most of the grape varietals which thrive most successfully there, notably the Shiraz and Chardonnay grapes. In recent years, Australia has been lauded as the 'most influential' wine producing country in the world, and the rest of the New World is looking down under for inspiration, and the ability to produce comparable fine wines on their own terrain.