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.
Although nowadays most commonly associated with the wines of southern France â€“ particularly Languedoc â€“ and Sicily, the Carignan grape varietal was once an important indigenous Spanish grape, and was used in the production of early Rioja wines. Today, the grape is found in many different countries, and is most commonly used in blended wines, where its strong tannins and astringent nature can boost other, weaker bodied varietals to produce superbly balanced blends. Carignan grows in hot and dry conditions, and is particularly susceptible to rot and mildew, making it quite a challenging grape to cultivate. However, given careful treatment, the Carignan grape is capable of producing sumptuous single variety wines, packed full of interesting earthy flavors quite unlike other red wine grapes.
For thousands of years, Spain's beautiful wine region of Catalunya has been a powerful center of wine production, with much archaeological evidence to suggest that quality vines were being cultivated in the fine Catalan soils many hundreds of years before even the first Roman settlers arrived. The wonderful coastal Mediterranean climate of the region creates an ideal environment for viticulture, and the excellent conditions are improved further by the mineral rich soils which cover much of the region's valleys and hillsides. As a result, the bodegas and wineries which operate in Catalunya are able to grow a wide variety of imported and native grape varietals, and are able to produce their famous sparkling Cava wines in large quantities, alongside the many still red and white wine bottles which are brought out each year to critical acclaim.
Spanish wines are renowned world-wide for carrying all the passion and character of the Spanish culture within them. Any lover of Spanish wine would undoubtedly be able to confirm this notion, as the variety and range of flavors and aromas coming from the high end of Spanish produce is truly impressive, and continues to delight and fascinate both newcomers and the more experienced. Spain benefits massively from an ideal climate for wine production and vine cultivation, with its long, scorching hot summers and far reaching oceanic breezes working perfectly with the native and imported grape varietals, which thrive on the mineral rich soils that cover much of the country. With centuries of knowledge, and generations of expertise under their belts, Spanish wineries continue to focus on raising the quality of their nation's wines, helped along the way by relatively new laws and regulations regarding regional excellence and representativeness.