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: Gruner Veltliner
At the forefront of high quality central European wines is the much admired Gruner Veltliner grape varietal. This pale skinned and highly versatile grape can be used for the production of excellent still white wines, as well as soft, mellow and beautifully aged wines. In many regions around central Europe, winemakers use the Gruner Veltliner to make elegant sparkling wines, which are highly appreciated by wine drinkers for the fact that they have an ability to clearly express the delightfully mineral-rich tones of the terroir the grapes were grown on. Due to the success and pervading popularity of the Gruner Veltliner varietal in many parts of Europe, recent decades have seen this grape being cultivated in several, cooler regions in the New World, to much success.
As with almost all of the central European wine regions, the Austrian region of Wachau was first used for cultivating grapevines on a large scale by the Romans, two thousand years ago. Today, it remains a vitally important wine region, and is by far the most respected and widely adored region of Austria, with the wineries of Wachau enjoying their reputation for excellence and elegance when it comes to the superb wines they produce each year. The mighty river Danube that runs through the Wachau vineyards provides adequate moisture and plenty of minerals and nutrients for the region's grapes, and the warm climate helps the Riesling and Gruner Veltliner varietals which flourish there ripen slowly and fully, resulting in flavorful and characterful wines of real distinction.
Archaeological evidence suggests that grapevines have been grown and cultivated in what is today modern Austria for over four thousand years, making it one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world. Over the centuries, relatively little has changed in Austrian wine, with the dominant grape varietals continuing to be GrÃ¼ner Veltliner, Zweigelt, Pinot Noir and others. Austria is renowned for producing excellent and characterful dry white wines, although in the eastern part of the country, many wineries specialist in sweeter white wines made in a similar style to those of neighboring Hungary. Today, Austria has over fifty thousand hectares under vine, split over four key wine regions. The domestic wine industry remains strong, with Austrians drinking their local produce outside in the summer, and people around the world are beginning to once more rediscover this fascinating and ancient wine culture.