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 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.
Archaeological evidence suggests that grapevines have been grown and cultivated in what is today modern Austria for over four thousand years, making it one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world. Over the centuries, relatively little has changed in Austrian wine, with the dominant grape varietals continuing to be GrÃ¼ner Veltliner, Zweigelt, Pinot Noir and others. Austria is renowned for producing excellent and characterful dry white wines, although in the eastern part of the country, many wineries specialist in sweeter white wines made in a similar style to those of neighboring Hungary. Today, Austria has over fifty thousand hectares under vine, split over four key wine regions. The domestic wine industry remains strong, with Austrians drinking their local produce outside in the summer, and people around the world are beginning to once more rediscover this fascinating and ancient wine culture.