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.
In recent years, the Malbec single variety wines coming out of many New World countries have been gaining a lot of attention as a result of their fantastic plummy flavors, and strong, full-bodied nature. However, Malbec grape varietals have been cultivated for centuries in many Old World countries for these very characteristics, and they have long had a strong presence in some of the best blended wines ever produced by leading wineries. Their high tannin level and heavy juiciness means they are ideal for big, powerful full-bodied wines packing a strong fruit-forward punch on the palate, and their beautiful deep red color has long been admired and upheld as a mark of quality. The Malbec grapes are probably at their best when blended with other, mellower and more rounded grape varietals, such as a Merlot, as this allows their best features and their fruity flavor to shine, whilst being softened somewhat and made lighter and more drinkable.
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.
It isn't difficult to understand why Italy is famed not just for the quality of its wines, but also for the vast variety and range of characteristics found in the wines there. The terrain of the country varies wildly, from the lush rolling green hills and valley of Tuscany, to the sun drenched rocky coasts of Sicily, the mountainous and alpine regions of the north, and the marshy lowlands of the east. Italy really does have a little bit of everything. Combine this huge range of landscapes with an almost perfect climate for grape cultivation, and you have a country seemingly designed for viticultural excellence. The results speak for themselves, and it is clear to see that wine has become an inseparable part of Italian culture as a result of its abundance and brilliance. Each village, city and region has a local wine perfectly matched with the cuisine of the area, and not an evening passes without the vast majority of Italian families raising a glass of locally sourced wine with pride and pleasure.