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.
There continues to be much debate surrounding the name of the Shiraz/Syrah grape varietal, with many experts still quite unsure which came first. Indeed, even the origins of this varietal are more or less unknown, despite it being most commonly associated with the Rhone Valley of France, and New World countries, most notably Australia. However, its popularity and unique characteristics have seen it planted all over the world, where it continues to impress with its powerful flavors and wonderfully spicy notes of pepper and clove. Shiraz/Syrah wines are renowned also for their versatility, and are regularly used in single variety still and sparkling wines, as well as blended and oak aged wines which demonstrate its ability to express its terroir and secondary flavors very well.
Region: Rhone Valley
In southern France, one of the primary wine regions responsible for the production of a fine and varied range of wines is the Rhone Valley. Split into two large sub-regions, this expansive valley benefits from micro-climates which allow the wineries to grow a vast array of fine grape varietals. The northern region is the more limited one in regards to the amount of varietals grown, focusing predominantly on raising excellent quality Syrah, Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier vines for their distinctive and elegant range of wines. The southern region, on the other hand, has a beautifully Mediterranean climate, and is home to dozens of grape varietals which are used to produce white, red and rosÃ© wines, alongside some of the most famous and widely loved blended wines in the world.
Year in, year out, France enjoys its prestigious reputation as the producer of the finest wines in the world. With a wine making history which spans several thousand years and owes its expertise to the Romans, it comes as little surprise that this most highly esteemed of the Old World wine countries continues to impress and enchant both novices and experts to this day. Despite the rise in quality of wines from neighboring European countries, not to mention the New World, the French wine industry continues to boom, with up to eight billion bottles being produced in recent years. However, France prides itself on always putting quality before quantity, and the wide range in fine produce is a testament to the dedication and knowledge of the wineries across the country. Indeed, from rich and complex reds to light and aromatic white wines, French wines are as varied and interesting as they are enjoyable to drink, making this country a firm favorite for wine lovers across the globe.