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Vintage: 2011The 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.
Varietal: Champagne BlendThe careful blending of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietal grapes has long been the secret to the success of the famous sparkling wines of the Champagne region. The wines of this region have gone down in history as the finest example of France's sparkling produce, and the methods of processing the grapes in this region have been imitated in almost every wine producing country in the world. There are actually seven different grape varietals allowed to be included in a Champagne sparkling wine, although grape varietals such as Pinot Blanc, Arbanne and Pinot Gris are used less and less commonly in its production. Whilst the Chardonnay varietal grapes offer their distinctive biscuit flavor and wonderful astringency, it is the Pinot Noir grapes (most commonly used for producing beautifully light red wines) which give the Champagne wines their length and backbone.
Region: CatalunaSpain's stunning coastal region of Catalunya has long since impressed the world with its wide range of excellent wines, the result of a wine history which stretches back to pre-Roman time, and it has been a key stopping point on some of the most ancient wine trade routes on earth. It isn't difficult to understand why Catalunya has had so much influence over the ages â€“ the rich and fertile soils, the heat tempered by Mediterranean breezes, the fine grape varietals which flourish there have all helped establish Catalunya as an important global wine producer. Today, Catalunya is perhaps most famous for its 'methode champenoise' sparkling Cava wines, however, the region's soils support a wide range of grape varietals, and as such, the two hundred or so bodegas in the region produce a large variety of superb wines and wine styles.
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.