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.
The historic mountainous region of Cuyo in central-west Argentina, remains the nation's key wine producing area to this day, producing over eighty percent of the country's wines. Argentinian wines have gone from strength to strength over the past few decades, and it is undoubtedly the region of Cuyo which produces Argentina's most characterful and representative wines. Cuyo's dry and arid soil, rich in iron and other minerals has proven to be an ideal environment for the cultivation of Malbec grapes, alongside several other varietals which thrive in the hot climate and reach full ripeness each autumn, expressing their fruit-forward character. The vineyards of Cuyo are fed by the great Desaguadero River and its tributaries, helped by the extensive irrigation projects which have been undertaken over the past century.
In the dry, arid deserts of Argentina, wineries and winemakers are focusing their efforts on producing high quality wines for the world market. By experimenting with both traditional and modern methods and technologies, they have found great success with a wide variety of grapes well suited to the conditions of the country, particularly Malbec, Bonarda and Cabernet Sauvignon. Over the past decade, Argentinian wineries have continued to aim high, and this has led to a range of new wines using grape varietals not typically associated with the country. The cooler regions of Argentina are seeing more vineyards being planted with Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir varietals, something that is beginning to produce fantastic results, which are at once representative of the country's wines - with all their fruity and bold character - but are also pushing the boundaries of what we expect from a New World country.