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
The careful blending of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietal grapes has long been the secret to the success of the famous sparkling wines of the Champagne region. The wines of this region have gone down in history as the finest example of France's sparkling produce, and the methods of processing the grapes in this region have been imitated in almost every wine producing country in the world. There are actually seven different grape varietals allowed to be included in a Champagne sparkling wine, although grape varietals such as Pinot Blanc, Arbanne and Pinot Gris are used less and less commonly in its production. Whilst the Chardonnay varietal grapes offer their distinctive biscuit flavor and wonderful astringency, it is the Pinot Noir grapes (most commonly used for producing beautifully light red wines) which give the Champagne wines their length and backbone.
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.
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.