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.
Varietal: Champagne Blend
Whilst Champagne sparkling wines are most commonly made with a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grape varietals, there are actually seven fine grape varietals allowed by French wine law for inclusion in the wines of this region. These include Arbanne, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and and Petit Meslier alongside the others, although these four are being used less and less in the modern age. Champagnes are normally blended wines, although the popularity of single variety 'blanc de blanc' Champagnes made solely with Chardonnay grapes, and 'blanc de noir' wines made only with Pinot Noir varietal grapes are becoming more and more popular. The blending process found in most Champagnes aims to take the finest points of each grape varietal and bring them together to produce spectacular, strong yet balanced results in the bottle.
The beautiful region of Lombardy in north west Italy may be dominated by the huge metropolitan center of Milan and the industrial areas which surround it, but there is also plenty of unspoilt green space in the region which has proven itself to be ideal for viticulture over the centuries. In particular, the area around the enormous and ever popular Lake Garda has shown itself to be an ideal wine producing region, as the lowlands enjoy cooler temperatures than many of the surrounding areas, which allow grapes to ripen more slowly and fully. The Lake Garda vineyards are most well known for the exceedingly high quality Trebbiano di Laguna grapes, used to make a superb white wine which has become something of a flagship for the region. However, today there are dozens of wineries in Lombardy growing a wide range of red and white grapes, and producing wines of excellent character and flavor.
There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' â€“ the land of wines â€“ so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it.