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: Champagne Blend
The sparkling wines of Champagne have been revered by wine drinkers for hundreds of years, and even today they maintain their reputation for excellence of flavor and character, and are consistently associated with quality, decadence, and a cause for celebration. Their unique characteristics are partly due to the careful blending of a small number of selected grape varietals, most commonly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These grapes, blended in fairly equal quantities, give the wines of Champagne their wonderful flavors and aromas, with the Pinot Noir offering length and backbone, and the Chardonnay varietal giving its acidity and dry, biscuity nature. It isn't unusual to sometimes see Champagne labeled as 'blanc de blanc', meaning it is made using only Chardonnay varietal grapes, or 'blanc de noir', which is made solely with Pinot Noir.
Germany's thriving wine region of Pfalz is the second largest in the country, and is generally considered to be one of the finest regions for Germanic style wines in the world. The warm and sunny climate of Pfalz is exceedingly similar to that of Alsace, and many of the same fine grape varietals can be found flourishing there in the mineral rich, fertile soils which typify the region. With a history stretching back to the Roman times, Pfalz has long been a center for traditional viticulture, and that spirit of doing things the 'old fashioned way' remains to this day. With over twenty five thousand hectares of land under vine, Pfalz succeeds in being a large scale producer of wines, whilst keeping quality levels and distinction high, and whilst maintaining a tradition of excellence and elegance.
Much has changed over the past few decades in regards to German wine. Long gone are the days of mass produced, sickly sweet white wines which were once the chief exports of this fascinating and ancient wine producing country, and they have been replaced with something far more sophisticated. Whilst Germany continues to produce a relatively large amount of dessert wine, the wineries of the south of the country have reverted their attention to the production of drier, more elegant wines which really make the most of the fine grape varieties which flourish there. Many of the wineries dealing primarily with the excellent Riesling grapes have produced some truly exceptional dry and semi-sweet wines over the past few years, and it seems the world has finally woken up and noticed the extremely high quality of the distinctive produce coming out of Germany today.