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: Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc is widely considered to be one of the finest varietals of white wine grapes. The green skinned fruit is notable for ripening relatively early in the year, due to the fact that it prefers milder temperatures and cannot maintain its distinctive flavors in hot climates. As such, it has become a favorite grape varietal for wineries in many very different countries around the world, where it can benefit from brisk, coastal breezes and mild early summers. Sauvignon Blanc is revered for its freshness and zesty character, and generally produces wines which are dry and very crisp on the palate. However, there are a wide variety of wines produced from this wonderfully versatile grape â€“ with many wineries preferring to age the fermented juices in oak, or allowing malolactic fermentation to add a creamier, buttery finish to the grassy and tropical, citrus flavors it often carries.
Region: Valle Central
Chile is a fascinating country when it comes to wines and viticulture, and by far the most internationally renowned wine region in the country is the Valle Central. This expansive valley is located close to the Chilean capital of Santiago, and stretches between the Maipo Valley and Maule Valley, a long, winding fault through the mountainous regions of the country which is now almost completely covered by vineyards producing wines of exquisite character. The region itself may well be associated with the 'New World' of wines, but in actual fact, vineyards have been cultivated around the Maipo valley since the 16th century, when settlers from Europe brought vines across the ocean with which to make sacramental wines. A wide range of grape varietals thrive in the hot climate of Valle Central, from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines the country is most famous for, to Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Carmenere.
When considering the rich and fertile central valleys of Chile, where we find most of the oldest, grandest and established wineries, it is difficult to imagine a more suited landscape for vineyard cultivation and wine production. Mineral rich soils, eight months of sunshine per year, oceanic winds and clear water running down the mountainsides â€“ it is little wonder that the imported Old World grapes do so well here. Chile is renowned world-wide for producing highly drinkable wines, packed full of fruit-forward character and enjoyed young and fresh, as well as being home to more complex wines reminiscent of many Old World varieties. Whilst the Cabernet Sauvignon is widely regarded as being Chile's 'flagship' grape varietal, equally fine produce comes from Chardonnay grapes (indeed, the Sol de Sol Chardonnays are widely agreed to be amongst the New World's finest white wines) the plummy Merlot and silky, intense Pinot Noir.