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
Originating in France yet now grown in many parts of the New World, Chenin Blanc is one of the most versatile and highly regarded white wine grape varietals on earth. These green skinned grapes hold a relatively high acid content, and as such can be used for making still white wines of exceptional quality, as well as superb sparkling wines (such as the CrÃ©mant wines of the Loire Valley) and extremely aromatic dessert wines. Their natural transparency means that they are a fine grape for expressing their terroir in the bottle, and winemakers often experiment with this varietal to coax unusual and intense flavors from the grapes, such as allowing the development of noble rot on the fruit in order to make sweet and viscous wines of a unique character.
Region: Coastal Region
Coastal South Africa has long been recognized as a vitally important global wine region, and was probably the first 'New World' country to produce wines of an exceptionally high quality. Indeed, in the late 18th century, wines from in and around Cape Town were regarded as amongst the best wines on earth, and were adored for their exoticism and big, fruity flavors Today, the South African wine industry is booming, and wineries are appearing each year along the sun drenched and windy oceanic coastline. Many grape varietals are now grown in the region, however, Chenin Blanc remains the country's flagship varietal, with over eighteen percent of vineyards in the country used for this particular grape, closely followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Colombard.
Country: South Africa
Situated on the very tip of the African continent, South Africa has proved itself over three centuries to be an ideal location for producing a wide range of wines. Benefiting from something not dissimilar to a Mediterranean climate, with long, hot summers complemented by both Atlantic and Indian Ocean winds, the grapes which grow on the valleys, mountainsides and plains of this fascinating country can ripen to their fullest capacity, producing wines packed full of fruity flavors and an array of interesting and enticing aromas. As a former colony, South Africa has long since been home to a range of different nationalities, who each brought something of their wine culture with them. As such, many European grape varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling and others have been given time to flourish in South Africa, allowing the country to develop a diverse group of wine types which are proving increasingly popular around the world.