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.
Whilst there remains plenty of debate over which is the 'correct' name for the Shiraz/Syrah grape varietal, nobody is in any doubt about the influence and popularity this grape has had over recent decades. For centuries, this varietal has been used in single variety and blended wines in the regions of France it is most closely associated with, yet the 20th century saw it become one of the definitive grape varietals of New World red wines, where its big, robust character and spicy, berry-rich flavors proved to be a hit with international audiences. Today, Shiraz/Syrah is said to be the seventh most widely planted grape varietal in the world, and is used for a remarkably wide variety of quality red wines â€“ including still, sparkling and fortified varieties.
Region: Valle Central
The Valle Central in Chile has long since been one of South America's most productive and prodigious wine regions, with millions of bottles leaving the wineries of the region each year. The climate of Valle Central is hugely varied, thanks to the many micro-climates caused by the geological features of the region. As such, a relatively wide range of grape varietals thrive there, depending on the location. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot do very well in the warmer, more humid areas, whilst white grapes such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Carmenere can be found at higher altitudes. The region itself has been producing wines for an astonishingly long time; since the 16th century, vines have been cultivated in the Maipo Valley and close to the capital, Santiago, and the wine industry of Valle Central is now stronger than ever.
Whilst being widely regarded as definitively 'New World' as a wine producing country, Chile has actually been cultivating grapevines for wine production for over five hundred years. The Iberian conquistadors first introduced vines to Chile with which to make sacramental wines, and although these were considerably different in everything from flavor, aroma and character to the wines we associate with Chile today, the country has a long and interesting heritage when it comes to this drink. Chilean wine production as we know it first arose in the country in the mid to late 19th century, when wealthy landowners and industrialists first began planting vineyards as a way of adopting some European class and style. They quickly discovered that the hot climate, sloping mountainsides and oceanic winds provided a perfect terroir for quality wines, and many of these original estates remain today in all their grandeur and beauty, still producing the wines which made the country famous.