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.
Of all the white wine grape varietals, surely the one which has spread the furthest and is most widely appreciated is the Chardonnay. This green skinned grape is now grown all over the Old and New Worlds, from New Zealand to the Americas, from England to Chile, and is one of the first varietals people think of when considering white wine grapes. Perhaps this is because of its huge popularity which reached a peak in the 1990s, thanks to new technologies combining with traditional methods to bring the very best features out of the Chardonnay grape, and allow its unique qualities to shine through. Most fine Chardonnay wines use a process known as malolactic fermentation, wherein the malic acids in the grape juice are converted to lactic acids, allowing a creamier, buttery nature to come forward in the wine. No grape varietal is better suited to this process than Chardonnay, which manages to balance these silky, creamy notes with fresh white fruit flavors beautifully.
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.
Whilst every Australian state has some level of wine production, it is in South Australia and on the island of Tasmania where the finest wines are made to the highest quantities. Here, the scorching Australian sun is a little tamer, and the heat is tempered by brisk oceanic winds, making the climate of these regions ideal for vineyard cultivation. The Tamar Valley on Tasmania has been making waves internationally in recent years, as both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grape varietals are thriving there and resulting in hugely flavorful wines, which are at once distinctly Australian, yet remain unique and interesting enough to surprise and impress. Elsewhere in the country, the Syrah grape (known locally as Shiraz) reigns supreme, as the long, hot summers allow these grapes to ripen fully and lend their intensely fruit-forward character to the ruby red Australian wines, which have such international appeal.