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.
The Shiraz or Syrah grape varietal has seen a huge surge in popularity over the past few decades, partly due to the fact that more and more wineries around the world are beginning to plant and process this robust and flavorful grape for international audiences. This varietal has plenty going for it, and has the special ability of being able to clearly express positive features of its terroir in the bottle, alongside its characteristic flavors of dark berries, pepper and other spices. Shiraz/Syrah is also notably a highly versatile grape, and has been successfully used in several type of still red wine, as well as excellent sparkling and fortified wines. It is also regularly used as a blending grape, where it is prized for its ability to add a bold and strong, spicy punch to mellow, blended wines.
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.
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.