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: Chenin Blanc
For centuries, the Chenin Blanc grape has been grown in its native France, and in many other countries around the world (most notably in South Africa). These green skinned grapes are revered for the fact that their high acidity makes them extremely versatile, and Chenin Blanc wines can range from the fascinating, sweet and viscous dessert wines made by allowing noble rot to develop on the fruit, to dry and crisp sparkling crÃ©mants, or simple, elegant still white wines. Their key feature is that they are considered to be a highly 'transparent' grape, allowing the features of their terroir to come through in the glass, and the fact that they can carry a beautiful range of tropical fruit flavors such as pineapple, guava and banana.
Region: Loire Valley
In France, the region most closely associated with the production of fine white wines is the Loire Valley, a particularly fertile and temperate region near the Atlantic coast. This reputation is certainly justified, and the Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc vines which flourish in this region produce both dry and dessert wines of exquisite character and flavor However, the region is also responsible for some seriously high quality Cabernet Franc based wines, such as those found in the sub-region of Chenin, and plenty of elegant bubbly crÃ©mant wines, which are often fruitier and more lively than those found in Champagne, and with a character all of their own. The Loire Valley is an ancient wine region, with archaeological evidence dating wine production in this area back to the first century.
French winemakers are subjected to several laws and regulations regarding the wines they produce, and how they can be labeled and sold. Such procedures are designed to increase the overall quality of the country's produce, and also to ensure that wines made in each particular region or appellation are of a character and type which is representative of the area. Thankfully for consumers of wine world-wide, the French have a particularly high reputation to uphold, and seem to do so flawlessly. Every year, wineries from all over France produce millions upon millions of bottles of fine wine, making the most of their native grape varieties and the excellent terrain which covers most of the country. From the expensive and exquisite red wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, to the white wines and cremants of central France, the French are dedicated to providing the world with wines of the highest quality and most distinctive character.