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.
The Shiraz or Syrah grape varietal has seen a huge surge in popularity over the past few decades, partly due to the fact that more and more wineries around the world are beginning to plant and process this robust and flavorful grape for international audiences. This varietal has plenty going for it, and has the special ability of being able to clearly express positive features of its terroir in the bottle, alongside its characteristic flavors of dark berries, pepper and other spices. Shiraz/Syrah is also notably a highly versatile grape, and has been successfully used in several type of still red wine, as well as excellent sparkling and fortified wines. It is also regularly used as a blending grape, where it is prized for its ability to add a bold and strong, spicy punch to mellow, blended wines.
Victoria is a fascinating region for lovers of Australian wines, and consistently provides plenty of exciting and pleasant surprises for wine drinkers around the world. The six hundred or so wineries which operate in this cool and coastal south western region of Australia have always had a dedication for quality over quantity, and a reputation for openness to experimentation unmatched elsewhere in the country. As such, the range of red and white grape varietals which grow exceedingly well there result in a wide variety of wines, of many different styles. Amongst the finest are the Old World style wines made from classic French grapes such as Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as many fascinating fortified wines and dessert wines.
Whilst every Australian state has some level of wine production, it is in South Australia and on the island of Tasmania where the finest wines are made to the highest quantities. Here, the scorching Australian sun is a little tamer, and the heat is tempered by brisk oceanic winds, making the climate of these regions ideal for vineyard cultivation. The Tamar Valley on Tasmania has been making waves internationally in recent years, as both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grape varietals are thriving there and resulting in hugely flavorful wines, which are at once distinctly Australian, yet remain unique and interesting enough to surprise and impress. Elsewhere in the country, the Syrah grape (known locally as Shiraz) reigns supreme, as the long, hot summers allow these grapes to ripen fully and lend their intensely fruit-forward character to the ruby red Australian wines, which have such international appeal.