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.
In the very south of Italy, in the heel of the country's 'boot', we find the beautiful and sun drenched region of Puglia. Puglian wines suffered from a poor reputation throughout much of the twentieth century, with the region being generally associated with mass produced wines, more concerned with bulk and quantity than the quality of the produce. However, the past decade has seen a concerted effort on the part of the vintners of Puglia to do away with the region's negative connotations, and Puglian wines have undergone something of a renaissance. With awards and acclaim being piled upon the region, there has never been a better time to explore these characterful, flavorful and deeply exciting wines, packed as they are with big, boisterous dark fruit flavors and interesting attributes.
It isn't difficult to understand why Italy is famed not just for the quality of its wines, but also for the vast variety and range of characteristics found in the wines there. The terrain of the country varies wildly, from the lush rolling green hills and valley of Tuscany, to the sun drenched rocky coasts of Sicily, the mountainous and alpine regions of the north, and the marshy lowlands of the east. Italy really does have a little bit of everything. Combine this huge range of landscapes with an almost perfect climate for grape cultivation, and you have a country seemingly designed for viticultural excellence. The results speak for themselves, and it is clear to see that wine has become an inseparable part of Italian culture as a result of its abundance and brilliance. Each village, city and region has a local wine perfectly matched with the cuisine of the area, and not an evening passes without the vast majority of Italian families raising a glass of locally sourced wine with pride and pleasure.