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 highly versatile Gruner Veltliner varietal grapes have been grown for many centuries in central and eastern European countries, and are still widely drunk and celebrated around Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Whilst they are not seen much elsewhere around the world, in recent years they have been cultivated in certain parts of the United States and in a few other New World countries. These pale skinned grapes grow most successfully in cooler climates, and are popular with wineries due to the fact that they are relatively hardy and resistant to disease. Gruner Veltliner grapes are also much appreciated for the fact that they hold some unique flavors which come about because they express their terroir very well, and are often most commonly associated with flavors of citrus fruits, peaches and peppery, tobacco notes.
When it comes to the wines of Austria, it is widely considered that the finest by far are those which come out of the grand and elegant Wachau region in the south of the country. Wachau has been an important wine producing region for over two thousand years, and was originally used by the Romans, who noticed its fine potential for producing characterful and flavorful white and red wines. Wachau benefits enormously from the beautifully sunny and warm climate which it shares with western Hungary, and the ancient and impressive river Danube which runs through it, bringing minerals and much needed nutrients to the vineyards. As such, the Gruner Veltliner and Riesling grapes which cover most of the region's vineyards are able to express some interesting features of their fine terroir, as they ripen slowly and fully under the sun each year.
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.