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 Aglianico grape varietal has been grown in the Campania region for thousands of years, and is believed to have come from ancient Greece, where it was an important varietal for the production of fine traditional Grecian wines. It became enormously popular in Italy, where it thrived beneath the hot sun, and was a key varietal for the finest Roman wines, prized for its thick black skin and high acidity. Because of their thick skins, Aglianico grapes have a high tannin content. In young wines, this can prove to be a little challenging, but with a bit of aging, the tannins mellow and round to produce beautiful wines of excellent balance. Because Aglianico grapes grow most successfully in hot and dry climates, they've had plenty of success in the New World over the past few decades, where they are often used for blending.
The beautiful region of Campania, located in the 'shin' of Italy's boot, has been an important center for viticulture and wine making for thousands of years. Indeed, archaeologists believe that wine making was happening in Campania as long ago as 1,200 BCE, making this one of the oldest wine regions on earth. By the time the Roman Empire starting expanding, Campania became the world's most important wine producing region, and the hundred or so native grape varietals which flourish in the mineral rich soils near the coast became the key ingredient in many of Rome's legendary classical wines. Today, the wine industry in Campania is booming once more, following a drop in the region's reputation in the 1970s, and is gaining awards, recognition and new fans each year.
It isn't difficult to understand why Italy is famed not just for the quality of its wines, but also for the vast variety and range of characteristics found in the wines there. The terrain of the country varies wildly, from the lush rolling green hills and valley of Tuscany, to the sun drenched rocky coasts of Sicily, the mountainous and alpine regions of the north, and the marshy lowlands of the east. Italy really does have a little bit of everything. Combine this huge range of landscapes with an almost perfect climate for grape cultivation, and you have a country seemingly designed for viticultural excellence. The results speak for themselves, and it is clear to see that wine has become an inseparable part of Italian culture as a result of its abundance and brilliance. Each village, city and region has a local wine perfectly matched with the cuisine of the area, and not an evening passes without the vast majority of Italian families raising a glass of locally sourced wine with pride and pleasure.