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.
Carmenere grapes thrive in moderately warm climates, and have long since spread outwards from their native France to other countries around the world. Back at home, they are included on the list of fine grape varietals allowed for inclusion in the excellent blended wines of Bordeaux, where they are prized for their strong character, deep red color and powerful flavors and aromas. Elsewhere, they are also commonly used as a blending grape, but it is becoming more usual to see single variety bottles made with this special blue grape varietal. Carmenere is famed for its unusual flavors and powerful aromas, which often include wonderful notes of leather and cherries, tobacco and chocolate. As such, it is much in demand by wineries wishing to make memorable wines with a lasting character.
As historically one of the most important regions in the world regarding trade and experimentation, it comes as no surprise to discover that Veneto has always been a well respected and innovative wine region. This area of north-easterly area of Italy benefits greatly from a continental climate tempered by the Alps, and plenty of influence from the Germanic countries it is near to. Veneto is most commonly associated with beautifully elegant white wines, such as those of Soave, and has over ninety thousand hectares under vine. Impressively, within that area, over a third of the vineyards in the Veneto region have been granted official AOC status, and many of the sub-regions and appellations of Veneto have gone on to be world-famous in regards to quality. One such example is Valpolicella, where some of Italy's finest and most complex red wines are produced.
It isn't difficult to understand why Italy is famed not just for the quality of its wines, but also for the vast variety and range of characteristics found in the wines there. The terrain of the country varies wildly, from the lush rolling green hills and valley of Tuscany, to the sun drenched rocky coasts of Sicily, the mountainous and alpine regions of the north, and the marshy lowlands of the east. Italy really does have a little bit of everything. Combine this huge range of landscapes with an almost perfect climate for grape cultivation, and you have a country seemingly designed for viticultural excellence. The results speak for themselves, and it is clear to see that wine has become an inseparable part of Italian culture as a result of its abundance and brilliance. Each village, city and region has a local wine perfectly matched with the cuisine of the area, and not an evening passes without the vast majority of Italian families raising a glass of locally sourced wine with pride and pleasure.