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 Gris
The grayish blue fruits of the Pinot Grigio grape varietal are used in the production of a very wide, and seemingly ever widening, range of quality white wines. These grapes pick up much of the features of their terroir, and as such, it isn't unusual to find find Pinot Grigio wines which have something of an alpine character, or hold slightly ashen, smoky flavors soaked up from various soils. They have a naturally high sugar content, which, depending on how they are handled and processed either leads to them producing semi-sweet wines, or drier, more fermented wines, or even wines with a relatively high alcohol content. These grapes prefer cooler climates, and as such are grown in several countries around the world which have strong oceanic breezes or shady valley regions.
Alsace has to be one of the most fascinating regions of France, with a history which stretches back millennia, and demonstrates perfectly the kind of blended culture that can arise from being located on the border between two enormously important, yet very different countries. Indeed, being on the border between France and Germany has resulted in Alsatian wines being something of a mix between the wines of these two countries. Riesling varietal grapes are grown in enormous quantities here, and display all of their crisp, dry complexity perfectly in the famous wines of Alsace. Alongside this typically Germanic wine, Alsatian vintners also produce plenty of Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Muscat and Sauvignon Vert wines, all of which are superb when it comes to expressing the finer features of the wonderful Alsatian terroir.
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.