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: Champagne Blend
Whilst Champagne sparkling wines are most commonly made with a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grape varietals, there are actually seven fine grape varietals allowed by French wine law for inclusion in the wines of this region. These include Arbanne, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and and Petit Meslier alongside the others, although these four are being used less and less in the modern age. Champagnes are normally blended wines, although the popularity of single variety 'blanc de blanc' Champagnes made solely with Chardonnay grapes, and 'blanc de noir' wines made only with Pinot Noir varietal grapes are becoming more and more popular. The blending process found in most Champagnes aims to take the finest points of each grape varietal and bring them together to produce spectacular, strong yet balanced results in the bottle.
For thousands of years, Spain's beautiful wine region of Catalunya has been a powerful center of wine production, with much archaeological evidence to suggest that quality vines were being cultivated in the fine Catalan soils many hundreds of years before even the first Roman settlers arrived. The wonderful coastal Mediterranean climate of the region creates an ideal environment for viticulture, and the excellent conditions are improved further by the mineral rich soils which cover much of the region's valleys and hillsides. As a result, the bodegas and wineries which operate in Catalunya are able to grow a wide variety of imported and native grape varietals, and are able to produce their famous sparkling Cava wines in large quantities, alongside the many still red and white wine bottles which are brought out each year to critical acclaim.
Spanish wines are renowned world-wide for carrying all the passion and character of the Spanish culture within them. Any lover of Spanish wine would undoubtedly be able to confirm this notion, as the variety and range of flavors and aromas coming from the high end of Spanish produce is truly impressive, and continues to delight and fascinate both newcomers and the more experienced. Spain benefits massively from an ideal climate for wine production and vine cultivation, with its long, scorching hot summers and far reaching oceanic breezes working perfectly with the native and imported grape varietals, which thrive on the mineral rich soils that cover much of the country. With centuries of knowledge, and generations of expertise under their belts, Spanish wineries continue to focus on raising the quality of their nation's wines, helped along the way by relatively new laws and regulations regarding regional excellence and representativeness.