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
There are few wine regions of the world with as much influence or fame as that of Champagne in France. The sparkling wines from this special area have long been associated with excellence and magnificent flavors, and much of their success has been down to the careful blending of fine grape varietals in order to achieve spectacular results. Most commonly, Champagne wines use both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietal grapes in more or less equal measures, often boosted by a small quantity of Pinot Meunier for extra bite. The Chardonnay varietal grapes offer their acidity and flavor to the bottle, and help with the dryness associated with quality in this type of wine. The Pinot Noir, on the other hand, gives strength to the wine, and gives Champagne its distinctive 'length' of character.
The north westerly region of Lombardy in Italy has long been recognized as a highly important center for viticulture, and despite the region being dominated by industry and huge cities such as Milan, it also has mile upon mile of beautiful, unspoilt green space ideal for growing vines. For centuries, the shores of the stunning and expansive Lake Garda have been home to many of Italy's finest vineyards, where the temperature is cooler and more suitable for slowly ripening grapes of exceedingly high quality. Today, Lombardy primarily produces superbly crisp and flavorful white wines made from the Trebbiano varietal grape. However, recent decades have seen much successful experimentation with Bordeaux varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, making this a thoroughly modern wine region, albeit one steeped in history and tradition.
For several decades in the mid to late twentieth century, Italy's reputation for quality wines took a fairly serious blow. This was brought about partly due to lack of regulation in certain regions, and too much regulation in others. This led to several wineries in the beautiful and highly fertile region of Tuscany making the bold move to work outside of the law, which they saw as responsible for the drop in quality in Tuscan wines. They believed that they had the expertise and the generations of experience necessary with which to make truly excellent, world class wines, and set about doing just that. These 'Super Tuscans', as they came to be known, quickly inspired the rest of Italy to improve their produce, and now, Italian wine producers in the twenty-first century are widely recognised to be amongst the best in the world. Regulation and law began to change, and wine drinkers across the globe woke up to the outstanding wines coming out of Italy, which are continuing to improve and impress to this day.