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.
Of all the white wine grape varietals, surely the one which has spread the furthest and is most widely appreciated is the Chardonnay. This green skinned grape is now grown all over the Old and New Worlds, from New Zealand to the Americas, from England to Chile, and is one of the first varietals people think of when considering white wine grapes. Perhaps this is because of its huge popularity which reached a peak in the 1990s, thanks to new technologies combining with traditional methods to bring the very best features out of the Chardonnay grape, and allow its unique qualities to shine through. Most fine Chardonnay wines use a process known as malolactic fermentation, wherein the malic acids in the grape juice are converted to lactic acids, allowing a creamier, buttery nature to come forward in the wine. No grape varietal is better suited to this process than Chardonnay, which manages to balance these silky, creamy notes with fresh white fruit flavors beautifully.
All over the stunning region of Tuscany in central Italy, you'll see rolling hills covered in green, healthy grapevines. This region is currently Italy's third largest producer of wines, but interestingly wineries here are generally happy with lower yields holding higher quality grapes, believing that they have a responsibility to uphold the excellent reputation of Tuscany, rather than let it slip into 'quantity over quality' wine-making as it did in the mid twentieth century. The region has a difficult soil type to work with, but the excellent climate and generations of expertise more than make up for this problem. Most commonly, Tuscan vintners grow Sangiovese and Vernaccia varietal grapes, although more and more varietals are being planted nowadays in order to produce other high quality wine styles.
For several decades in the mid to late twentieth century, Italy's reputation for quality wines took a fairly serious blow. This was brought about partly due to lack of regulation in certain regions, and too much regulation in others. This led to several wineries in the beautiful and highly fertile region of Tuscany making the bold move to work outside of the law, which they saw as responsible for the drop in quality in Tuscan wines. They believed that they had the expertise and the generations of experience necessary with which to make truly excellent, world class wines, and set about doing just that. These 'Super Tuscans', as they came to be known, quickly inspired the rest of Italy to improve their produce, and now, Italian wine producers in the twenty-first century are widely recognised to be amongst the best in the world. Regulation and law began to change, and wine drinkers across the globe woke up to the outstanding wines coming out of Italy, which are continuing to improve and impress to this day.