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: Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir grapes have been cultivated in and around the Burgundy region of France for centuries, where they have long been favored by vintners for their wide range of flavors, their thin skins and for producing wines which have light, smooth tannins, and a beautiful garnet red color Whilst they remain one of the flagship varietals of this special region, their wide popularity and recent status as a fashionable 'romantic' varietal has led to them being planted in almost every wine producing country in the world. However, the Pinot Noir demands a huge amount of care and attention from the wineries that wish to grow it, as this varietal is particularly susceptible to various forms of mildew and rot. Despite this, the grape is otherwise a favorite with wineries for the fact that it requires little extra effort once it begins fermentation. Pinot Noir is also widely known for producing some of the world's most famous sparkling wines, being one of two key grapes for the production of Champagne, and several other sparkling varieties.
Region: Valle Central
The Valle Central in Chile has long since been one of South America's most productive and prodigious wine regions, with millions of bottles leaving the wineries of the region each year. The climate of Valle Central is hugely varied, thanks to the many micro-climates caused by the geological features of the region. As such, a relatively wide range of grape varietals thrive there, depending on the location. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot do very well in the warmer, more humid areas, whilst white grapes such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Carmenere can be found at higher altitudes. The region itself has been producing wines for an astonishingly long time; since the 16th century, vines have been cultivated in the Maipo Valley and close to the capital, Santiago, and the wine industry of Valle Central is now stronger than ever.
When the wealthy new landowners of the 19th century began planting large vineyards in the fertile central valleys of Chile, they must have been impressed at how successful the imported Old World grape varietals took to the land. However, such a fact is hardly surprising; with eight months of blazing sunshine coupled with oceanic winds from the west, and crystal clear spring waters from the Andes irrigating the soil, grapes such as Malbec, Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon were given everything they needed to flourish, and more. As the centuries passed, Chilean wineries continued to expand and experiment, resulting in a wide range of wine production methods and techniques, and consistently producing fine quality wines perfect for the international market. Nowadays, Chile is renowned for producing a wide variety of crisp white wines, and juicy, fruity reds enjoyed around the world for their drinkability and flavorful character, making this country very much one of the 'New World', albeit one with a fascinating link to the Old.