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.
There continues to be much debate surrounding the name of the Shiraz/Syrah grape varietal, with many experts still quite unsure which came first. Indeed, even the origins of this varietal are more or less unknown, despite it being most commonly associated with the Rhone Valley of France, and New World countries, most notably Australia. However, its popularity and unique characteristics have seen it planted all over the world, where it continues to impress with its powerful flavors and wonderfully spicy notes of pepper and clove. Shiraz/Syrah wines are renowned also for their versatility, and are regularly used in single variety still and sparkling wines, as well as blended and oak aged wines which demonstrate its ability to express its terroir and secondary flavors very well.
Region: Margaret River
When it comes to the south-westerly part of Australia, the Margaret River is by far the most important and productive of the area's wine producing regions. The region itself currently has over five thousand hectares of land under vine, and there are almost one hundred and fifty wineries operating there, making the most of the humid and warm climate many experts claim is remarkably similar to that which is found in the Bordeaux region of France. Such a climate can only produce fantastic yields of grapes of exceptional quality, and indeed, Margaret River currently produces almost twenty percent of Australia's wines. Both red and white wine grapes grow in the region, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chardonnay and SÃ©millon being the varietals most commonly and widely grown.
Despite much of Australia being covered by dry, arid deserts and bushland, the southern regions of the country and islands such as Tasmania have proved to be ideal for vineyard cultivation and wine production. The fertile soils and brisk oceanic breezes, coupled with the blazing Australian sunshine allow the grapes to grow to full ripeness before a late harvest, resulting in hugely flavorful wines which appeal to a wide international audience. Combine this with the experimental and daring approach Australian wineries have in regards to wine production, and it becomes clear why Australia has relatively quickly become something of a world leader when it come to exporting their produce to Europe and America. The Shiraz and Chardonnay grape varietals have produced the most successful and broadly appreciated results over the decades, however, in more recent years wineries have begun experimenting with a much wider range of grape varietals, demonstrating how Australian wineries are continuing to adapt and develop alongside international palates.