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.
In Macedonia and other parts of southern Europe, the main red wine grape varietal grown is the Xinomavro, a blue-black skinned grape whose name translates as 'acid black'. This grape thrives in the hot and arid landscapes of parts of Greece and the Mediterranean coast, and has been used for centuries for the production of superbly characterful dark red wines. The main features of the Xinomavro grape include their thick skins, which hold a high tannin content, and the fact that they contain a relatively high amount of acidity. These features are often problematic in young wines made from Xinomavro grapes, but also produce exquisite aged wines, when the tannins and acids have been given time to mellow and round out. In aged Xinomavro wines, a wide bouquet of delightful aromas is often present, containing classic Mediterranean notes such as black olive and dried tomato.
Few countries in the world can claim such an illustrious history of viticulture as that found in Greece, just as few countries can benefit from such an impressive range of terrain as that found across the mainland and islands of this ancient and fascinating land. When we consider that grapes are grown everywhere from the tiny islands in the Aegean sea, to larger land masses such as Rhodes and Crete, on the arid and rocky mainland and mountainous regions of Greek Macedonia, it is no wonder Greek wines show such huge diversity in style, flavor, aroma and character. One thing remains consistent, however, and that is the dedication to producing distinctly 'Greek' wines, full of characteristics which reflect the slow evolution of viticulture in a country which has been producing wine for several thousand years. Whilst certain wines, such as Retsina and those made from the Agiorghitiko grapes have long since been popular with fine wine drinkers world-wide, Greek wineries are continuing to produce superb wines using a wide range of native and imported grape varietals, meaning there are always plenty of new flavors and aromas to discover.