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
For centuries now, wineries in central and eastern Europe have been growing and cultivating the fine, pale skinned Gruner Veltliner varietal grapes for wine production. In more recent years, Gruner Veltliner has spread to several New World countries, where it is growing in popularity and is widely appreciated for its mineral-rich flavors and the fruity, spicy notes most commonly associated with the varietal. Gruner Veltliner has the much sought after ability to express many of the features of its terroir, and as such is favored by people looking for unusual and unique flavors and characteristics. Gruner Veltliner is also a highly versatile grape, and can be aged well, or used for sparkling wines and still, dry white wines of excellent quality and character.
The ancient and grand wine region of Wachau is by far the most well known and respected of all the Austrian wine regions. With a history which has survived through the rising and falling of empires, the wineries of Wachau have always been dedicated to quality and refinement, and were once producing many of the favorite wines of the European aristocracy and royal families. Today, the wineries of Wachau deal primarily with Gruner Veltliner and Riesling grape varietals, two wonderful species which are renowned for their ability to take on the finer features of their terroir, and express plenty of interesting flavors in the bottle. These, amongst several other grape varietals, thrive beautifully in the long, hot summers the region enjoys, and ripen fully thanks to the mineral rich soils the Danube river provides.
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.