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.
Varietal: Chenin Blanc
For centuries, the Chenin Blanc grape has been grown in its native France, and in many other countries around the world (most notably in South Africa). These green skinned grapes are revered for the fact that their high acidity makes them extremely versatile, and Chenin Blanc wines can range from the fascinating, sweet and viscous dessert wines made by allowing noble rot to develop on the fruit, to dry and crisp sparkling crÃ©mants, or simple, elegant still white wines. Their key feature is that they are considered to be a highly 'transparent' grape, allowing the features of their terroir to come through in the glass, and the fact that they can carry a beautiful range of tropical fruit flavors such as pineapple, guava and banana.
Region: Coastal Region
The coastal region of South Africa is a wonderful place for viticulture. With gorgeously long, hot summer days, tempered by brisk oceanic winds, the grapevines can grow healthily, the fruit can ripen fully, and beautiful wines of great character and flavor can be made. For several hundred years now, the coastal region of South Africa has proven itself to be a highly important wine region, capable of supporting many grape varietals, suitable for still, fortified and sparkling wines. Today, the most popular grapes by far are Chenin Blanc, which produces the most recognizable wines of South Africa. However, also popular are many of the Bordeaux varieties of red and white grape, along with relative newcomers, such as Pinotage, which grow exceptionally well in the coastal terroir.
Country: South Africa
With its hot, long summers and oceanic winds from both the west and the east, South Africa is something of a haven for a wide range of imported grape varietals. Since the mid-18th century, the country has been associated with some very fine wines made using complex and careful blending techniques, with one of the most famous and widely loved early examples being constructed from Pontac, Muscadel and Chenin Blanc varietals. Since those colonial days, the regions around Cape Town have proven again and again to be fantastic areas for producing interesting and delicious wines, with many of the best examples of Champagne style sparkling wines originating from these fertile lands. From the scorchingly hot regions of Orange Rivers, to the far cooler and temperate appellations in Walker Bay, South Africa has developed a booming wine industry responsible for many of the finest New World wines available anywhere across the globe.