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: Sauvignon Blanc
One of the most commonly planted and cultivated white wine grape varietals in the world is the Sauvignon Blanc. This green skinned grape originated in southern France, where it is still grown today and produced into exceptionally high quality wines. However, it is also very much a varietal of the New World, and can be found almost anywhere with the correct climatic conditions for it to thrive in. Generally, Sauvignon Blanc grapes prefer cooler climates, and benefit best from an early harvest. Too much exposure to heat causes the juices inside the fruit to lose much of their character, and results in flat, uninteresting wines devoid of the grapes' usual bite and crispiness. In many countries, Sauvignon Blanc grape juices are aged in barrels, and are allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation, which transforms this dry and refreshing, zesty and fruity white wine into something far mellower, more buttery and refined.
Region: Coastal Region
The coastal parts of South Africa, and in particular the region around Cape Town, have been important wine regions for a surprising length of time. Indeed, viticulture first began at the tip of the African continent back in the mid 17th century, when European settlers first began experimenting with the cooler and windier terroirs near the ocean, and recognizing the potential the area had for growing grapes of real character and distinction. Those early experiments slowly but surely led to a powerful wine industry, and South African wines became famous throughout Europe for their quality and big, fruity, bold flavors Today, the coastal regions of South Africa produce a huge amount of wine, made in sparkling, still and fortified styles, and utilizing a wide range of grape varietals.
Country: South Africa
With its hot, long summers and oceanic winds from both the west and the east, South Africa is something of a haven for a wide range of imported grape varietals. Since the mid-18th century, the country has been associated with some very fine wines made using complex and careful blending techniques, with one of the most famous and widely loved early examples being constructed from Pontac, Muscadel and Chenin Blanc varietals. Since those colonial days, the regions around Cape Town have proven again and again to be fantastic areas for producing interesting and delicious wines, with many of the best examples of Champagne style sparkling wines originating from these fertile lands. From the scorchingly hot regions of Orange Rivers, to the far cooler and temperate appellations in Walker Bay, South Africa has developed a booming wine industry responsible for many of the finest New World wines available anywhere across the globe.