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 parts of South Africa, and in particular the region around Cape Town, have been important wine regions for a surprising length of time. Indeed, viticulture first began at the tip of the African continent back in the mid 17th century, when European settlers first began experimenting with the cooler and windier terroirs near the ocean, and recognizing the potential the area had for growing grapes of real character and distinction. Those early experiments slowly but surely led to a powerful wine industry, and South African wines became famous throughout Europe for their quality and big, fruity, bold flavors Today, the coastal regions of South Africa produce a huge amount of wine, made in sparkling, still and fortified styles, and utilizing a wide range of grape varietals.
Country: South Africa
As geographically diverse country, with everything from lush green valleys to areas of arid desert, mountainsides and river estuaries, South Africa unsurprisingly produces a huge range of excellent wines. Regions such as the Breede River Valley consistently impress with their Semillon wines and the lush, fruity Ruby Cabernets grown and processed here, and the cooler region of Overberg is attracting much attention as a result of their silky Pinot Noir bottles. However, all over the oceanic tip of this fascinating country, traditional methods dating back over three hundred years are combining with modern technologies to produce some of the finest examples of New World wines to be found anywhere on the globe.