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.
Without any doubt, the flagship grape varietal of Spain is the Tempranillo. This fine grape varietal has since been grown in several other countries around the world, and continues to be respected and admired for its deep ruby red color, its strong tannins, and the complex and delicious flavors it carries so well. Plum, vanilla, leather, tobacco and herb are just some of the characteristic flavors found in this black skinned grape varietal, and its power and fullness of features makes it a common grape for use in blended wines of exceptional quality. Tempranillo grapes thrive best in regions with a combination of bright, hot sunshine, and cooling breezes, where they can ripen fully and then be aged in oak barrels to mellow, become more rounded and allow their fascinating nature to come forward.
Region: La Rioja
The northern Spanish region of La Rioja has been producing many of Spain's finest and most characterful wines for generations, and is a historic region of country featuring several fascinating examples of ancient wine making practices. The wines of La Rioja stand up as some of the finest in the world, with devoted fans across the globe drawn to their rich flavors, relatively light body, and complex, deep and enticing aromas. Typically, wineries in La Rioja use the fine Tempranillo grapes which grow in abundance on the excellent soils of the region, and occasionally blend their wines with the highly aromatic Garnacha varietal, amongst others. There has also been an increase of interest in La Rioja's superb white wines in recent years, which usually utilize the Viura varietal grape and result in exquisite aged bottles.
From the deep and intense Rioja wines, or the dry and refreshing Ruedas, from Tempranillos to Verdejos, the range and quality of Spanish wines is always going to impress and fascinate. With several thousand years of traditions and expertise leading the way, Spanish wineries are currently producing some of the most flavorful and interesting wines to come out of Europe, striving to overcome the reputation problems the country suffered in the mid to late twentieth century. Despite being one of the largest producers of wine in the world, with billions of bottles being filled each year, Spanish wine producers are more interested in quality over quantity than ever before. The results of this are some truly world class wines rivaling even the finest produce of France in regards to balance, character and flavor, gaining new fans and enthusiasts every day.