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
Gruner Veltliner is a pale skinned white wine grape varietal most closely associated with central European countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In recent years, it has spread somewhat to several New World countries, where it is becoming gradually more popular and regularly seen in wine stores. One of the main attractions of this grape varietal for winemakers is the fact that it is highly versatile, and can be used for the production of several different wine styles, including young, dry white wines, excellent sparkling wines, and it is also a grape varietal which is well suited for aging Gruner Veltliner has the ability to express much of its terroir, and the best examples are generally those which are full of delightfully mineral-rich flavors alongside the more usual notes of citrus fruits and peach.
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.
For over four thousand years, Austria has been home to some of Europe's finest wines, with a strong domestic wine industry which is beginning to be once again recognized for its world class quality. All over the eastern part of the country, and even in the capital, Vienna, small wineries are working with the grape varietals which flourish in the country's hot summer climate and mineral rich soils, fed by the Danube and other great rivers which cross the flat lands of this part of Austria. Most commonly, wineries work with the GrÃ¼ner Veltliner grapes which grow so well here, and produce the dry and elegant white wines which typify Austria's viticultural produce. However, many other fine grape varietals are grown and used for a wide range of wine styles, including some extremely interesting sweet white wines similar to those found in neighboring Hungary.