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.
Sangiovese grapes have been grown in their native Italy and several other countries for a very long time now, with many experts claiming that they were even enjoyed by the ancient Etruscan civilization, long before the spread of the Roman Empire which helped raise the profile of this dark colored and flavorful varietal. It isn't difficult to understand their enduring appeal â€“ the Sangiovese grape varietal delivers wines which are the epitome of finery, soaking up delicate and complex oak and vanilla flavors from the barrels they are aged in, or leaving light, refreshing strawberry notes on the tongue when drank young. Whilst many traditional wineries prefer to use these acidic grapes for single variety wines, many have experimented with blending them with other fine varietals in order to balance out their combination of high acidity and light body. The results have often been truly special, and Sangiovese continues to impress today as much as it did centuries ago.
Tuscany is probably Italy's most important and widely respected wine region, with a history which stretches back almost three thousand years, and a set of fine grape varietals which produce some of the most delicious quality white and red wines in the world. Sangiovese and Vernaccia varietal grapes are grown all over this expansive region, and the way they are handled, aged and processed varies from town to town. The beautiful hot climate of Tuscany helps these grapes reach full ripeness, despite the fact the soil of the region is generally problematic for the vintners who work there. Despite this, there is a dedication to quality and flavor in Tuscany which is more or less unmatched anywhere else in Italy, and a great mix of strong tradition and willingness to experiment and think outside the box which has been a wonderful recipe for success in the region.
There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' â€“ the land of wines â€“ so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it.