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.
The deep blue colored grapes of the Carmenere varietal have their origins in France, where they are still listed as one of the elite grape varietals allowed by French law for the use in Bordeaux wines, generally regarded to be the finest in the world. However, the use of Carmenere grapes in France has been dwindling for many decades now, and it has been in several New World countries where they have seen their renaissance. Although still mostly used as a blending grape, single variety Carmenere wines are greatly sought after as a result of their deep, complex aromas, stunning blood red color and the fact that the grapes, when processed at optimum ripeness, carry some fascinating flavors, including chocolate, tobacco, and spicy cherry notes.
The wine region of Veneto in north-eastern Italy has long been associated with fine wines, but also with the spirit of innovation which is typical of the region and which made it an important area of Europe throughout history. Indeed, today Veneto's wine-makers are recognized as the most modernized in all of Italy, using contemporary techniques to make the best of the high quality grape varietals which flourish in the region. These include the wonderful Garganega varietal, which is the grape used for the production of Veneto's widely loved Soave white wine, and Glera and Verduzzo, which are both used in more traditional wines of the region. The region benefits from a cooler climate, but one which is sheltered by the Alps, producing balanced and consistent climatic conditions ideal for viticulture.
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.