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.
The Barossa Valley in Australia is one of the New World's most interesting wine regions, having been established in the late 19th century by German settlers. The region benefits enormously from the relatively temperate climate, which ranges from being hot on the lower parts of the valley, to quite cool as the altitude increases on the valley slopes. Barossa Valley produces mostly Shiraz wines, and has become one of the key Australian regions for this distinctive grape varietal which has gone on to be a major grape for the Australian wine industry. Despite suffering from a poor reputation in the mid 20th century, by the 1980s, plenty of unique and forward-thinking wineries set up in Barossa to take advantage of its excellent climate, and set about producing the excellent red and white wines which the region is famed for today.
Despite much of Australia being covered by dry, arid deserts and bushland, the southern regions of the country and islands such as Tasmania have proved to be ideal for vineyard cultivation and wine production. The fertile soils and brisk oceanic breezes, coupled with the blazing Australian sunshine allow the grapes to grow to full ripeness before a late harvest, resulting in hugely flavorful wines which appeal to a wide international audience. Combine this with the experimental and daring approach Australian wineries have in regards to wine production, and it becomes clear why Australia has relatively quickly become something of a world leader when it come to exporting their produce to Europe and America. The Shiraz and Chardonnay grape varietals have produced the most successful and broadly appreciated results over the decades, however, in more recent years wineries have begun experimenting with a much wider range of grape varietals, demonstrating how Australian wineries are continuing to adapt and develop alongside international palates.