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 careful blending of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietal grapes has long been the secret to the success of the famous sparkling wines of the Champagne region. The wines of this region have gone down in history as the finest example of France's sparkling produce, and the methods of processing the grapes in this region have been imitated in almost every wine producing country in the world. There are actually seven different grape varietals allowed to be included in a Champagne sparkling wine, although grape varietals such as Pinot Blanc, Arbanne and Pinot Gris are used less and less commonly in its production. Whilst the Chardonnay varietal grapes offer their distinctive biscuit flavor and wonderful astringency, it is the Pinot Noir grapes (most commonly used for producing beautifully light red wines) which give the Champagne wines their length and backbone.
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.
Despite being known primarily for sweet and semi-sweet white wines, Germany actually produces a surprisingly large and varied range of wines, with many reaching an extremely high standard and being very well received on the world stage. The terrain across much of the southern parts of the country is extremely fertile, with mineral rich soils adding a wonderful edge to already excellent grapes, and thus resulting in delicious and highly elegant white and rosÃ© wines. The climate in many parts of Germany also allows for some more unusual wine-making practices, with certain regions specializing in the highly aromatic and distinctive 'ice-wines' which are gaining popularity by those looking for something a little more intense and unusual. With these wines, the producers allow the grapes to freeze through the early frosts, resulting in a higher sugar content and a fantastic set of flavors and aromas in the finished product. Germany has long since favored quality over quantity, and a new enthusiasm for fine wine within the country is producing truly exciting results, using a blending of traditional and contemporary techniques.