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.
Known as Syrah in most countries around the world, and Shiraz in Australia and certain other regions of the New World, this grape varietal has proven over the centuries to be one of the most powerful and flavorful red wine grapes there is. It is now one of the planet's most widely grown grapes, and is a favorite with wineries as a result of its robustness and versatility. It isn't easy to identify many characteristics of this particular varietal, due to the fact that it is highly versatile and shows significant differences in flavor and character depending on the terroir it is grown in, and the climatic conditions of the region. However, Syrah is most widely associated with full bodied, strong and loud red wines, packed full of fruity and spicy flavors, held in a beautifully deep red liquid.
The central Italian region of Tuscany is widely understood to be one of the world's most famous and highly regarded wine regions. The beautiful rolling hillsides and medieval towns and castles which are a key feature of the area are also home to many of Europe's finest wineries, and extremely high quality vineyards growing the distinctive Sangiovese and Vernaccia grape varietals which are the flavorful backbone of Tuscany's wonderful red and white wines. For almost three thousand years, this region has been recognized as an ideal home for wine production on a large scale, and the ancient Etruscans, Greeks and Romans all noticed that fine grape varietals flourished on the unique soils and under the hot sunshine which typifies the area. Today, Tuscany is home to a wide range of wines, from the traditional to the complex, but all dedicated to excellent flavors and aromas, and maintaining the region's international reputation.
For several decades in the mid to late twentieth century, Italy's reputation for quality wines took a fairly serious blow. This was brought about partly due to lack of regulation in certain regions, and too much regulation in others. This led to several wineries in the beautiful and highly fertile region of Tuscany making the bold move to work outside of the law, which they saw as responsible for the drop in quality in Tuscan wines. They believed that they had the expertise and the generations of experience necessary with which to make truly excellent, world class wines, and set about doing just that. These 'Super Tuscans', as they came to be known, quickly inspired the rest of Italy to improve their produce, and now, Italian wine producers in the twenty-first century are widely recognised to be amongst the best in the world. Regulation and law began to change, and wine drinkers across the globe woke up to the outstanding wines coming out of Italy, which are continuing to improve and impress to this day.