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
The highly versatile Gruner Veltliner varietal grapes have been grown for many centuries in central and eastern European countries, and are still widely drunk and celebrated around Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Whilst they are not seen much elsewhere around the world, in recent years they have been cultivated in certain parts of the United States and in a few other New World countries. These pale skinned grapes grow most successfully in cooler climates, and are popular with wineries due to the fact that they are relatively hardy and resistant to disease. Gruner Veltliner grapes are also much appreciated for the fact that they hold some unique flavors which come about because they express their terroir very well, and are often most commonly associated with flavors of citrus fruits, peaches and peppery, tobacco notes.
The ancient and grand wine region of Wachau is by far the most well known and respected of all the Austrian wine regions. With a history which has survived through the rising and falling of empires, the wineries of Wachau have always been dedicated to quality and refinement, and were once producing many of the favorite wines of the European aristocracy and royal families. Today, the wineries of Wachau deal primarily with Gruner Veltliner and Riesling grape varietals, two wonderful species which are renowned for their ability to take on the finer features of their terroir, and express plenty of interesting flavors in the bottle. These, amongst several other grape varietals, thrive beautifully in the long, hot summers the region enjoys, and ripen fully thanks to the mineral rich soils the Danube river provides.
All over the flat parts of the country in eastern Austria, GrÃ¼ner Veltliner grapevines can be found growing to full ripeness under the blazing summer sunshine the country enjoys. For over four thousand years, Austria has been an important location for wine production, with a strong sense of tradition driving the modern wine industry to this day. Now, the country has over fifty thousand hectares under vine, and wineries are beginning to experiment more and more with imported grape varietals such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, alongside the traditional vines associated with the country. Austria is most commonly known for their excellent dry white wines, which are extremely elegant and generally capable of expressing their fine terroir, making it a fascinating country to explore from a wine drinker's perspective.