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: Gruner Veltliner
The pale skinned green grapes of the Gruner Veltliner varietal have been grown in and around central Europe for several centuries, and are a very important and popular grape with smallholders and those who produce the house wines which are typical of the region. They are grown extensively on the cool, windy hillsides of Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia, where they are admired for their ability to express the mineral-rich nature of the terroir they thrive in. Gruner Veltliner is a highly versatile varietal, capable of producing excellent still and sparkling wines, as well as beautifully rounded and subtle aged wines which are packed full of interesting and unique flavors Most commonly, they are associated with the flavors of citrus fruits, peaches, tobacco and white pepper.
When it comes to Austrian wine, the one region which is widely considered to stand head and shoulders above the rest is the Wachau. Located in the beautiful lower parts of the country, along the banks of the mighty river Danube, the vineyards of Wachau have been producing high quality white and red wines for centuries, and were once considered amongst the finest in Europe. Indeed, during the heights of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Wachau wines were amongst the favorites of the crowned heads of Europe, and they remain popular today with those seeking the ultimate in elegance and refinement. The vast majority of wines made in the Wachau region are produced from the grapes of the Gruner Veltliner and Riesling varietals, two grapes which are perfectly suited to the climatic conditions and soil type of the region.
Austria has a wonderfully long and illustrious history of wine production which stretches back over four thousand years, and reached its zenith under the Austria-Hungary dual monarchy in the late 19th century, when Vienna was one of the most important centers of culture and fine living in the world. Today, Austria's fertile soils and long, hot summers help the fifty thousand hectares of vineyards in the country achieve exceptionally high quality yields, which are used primarily for the production of the elegant dry white wines for which the country is renowned. The most important grape varietal is still GrÃ¼ner Veltliner, although many wineries are beginning to expand their repertoire and experiment with many imported grapes from France and further afield, including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.