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: Chenin Blanc
For centuries, the Chenin Blanc grape has been grown in its native France, and in many other countries around the world (most notably in South Africa). These green skinned grapes are revered for the fact that their high acidity makes them extremely versatile, and Chenin Blanc wines can range from the fascinating, sweet and viscous dessert wines made by allowing noble rot to develop on the fruit, to dry and crisp sparkling crÃ©mants, or simple, elegant still white wines. Their key feature is that they are considered to be a highly 'transparent' grape, allowing the features of their terroir to come through in the glass, and the fact that they can carry a beautiful range of tropical fruit flavors such as pineapple, guava and banana.
Region: Coastal Region
South Africa is a fascinating country for wine, and the coastal regions at the very tip of the African continent are widely regarded as being one of the finest wine regions in the world. It isn't difficult to understand why the early European settlers in the 17th century saw such potential for viticulture in the area; the heat is fantastic, the summer days wonderfully long, the soil rich in minerals, and the strong winds coming from the ocean provide much needed coolness in which the grapes could ripen slowly and fully. Over time, South Africa's coastal regions became covered in strong, healthy vineyards, and today, the wine industry of the region is booming. The past few decades have seen wineries experimenting with a wide range of grape varietals, and also producing fortified wines and sparkling wines of great character alongside their classic varieties.
Country: South Africa
With its hot, long summers and oceanic winds from both the west and the east, South Africa is something of a haven for a wide range of imported grape varietals. Since the mid-18th century, the country has been associated with some very fine wines made using complex and careful blending techniques, with one of the most famous and widely loved early examples being constructed from Pontac, Muscadel and Chenin Blanc varietals. Since those colonial days, the regions around Cape Town have proven again and again to be fantastic areas for producing interesting and delicious wines, with many of the best examples of Champagne style sparkling wines originating from these fertile lands. From the scorchingly hot regions of Orange Rivers, to the far cooler and temperate appellations in Walker Bay, South Africa has developed a booming wine industry responsible for many of the finest New World wines available anywhere across the globe.