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: Champagne Blend
Whilst Champagne sparkling wines are most commonly made with a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grape varietals, there are actually seven fine grape varietals allowed by French wine law for inclusion in the wines of this region. These include Arbanne, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and and Petit Meslier alongside the others, although these four are being used less and less in the modern age. Champagnes are normally blended wines, although the popularity of single variety 'blanc de blanc' Champagnes made solely with Chardonnay grapes, and 'blanc de noir' wines made only with Pinot Noir varietal grapes are becoming more and more popular. The blending process found in most Champagnes aims to take the finest points of each grape varietal and bring them together to produce spectacular, strong yet balanced results in the bottle.
The ancient Austrian wine region of Burgenland has been home to the country's red wine industry for centuries, and historically, this region was considered enormously important under the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, as its fine red wines were the toast of many aristocratic banquets and formal occasions. Unlike the rest of Austria, Burgenland receives an impressive amount of sunshine, meaning vintners can confidently grow their Pinot Noir, Zwiegelt and Blaufrankisch grapes to full ripeness, and rely on them expressing much of their beautiful terroir in the bottle. The region's closeness to some enormous Austrian lakes also means that the vineyards can remain moist and well hydrated, again resulting in the region's flavorful and characterful red wines which remain popular with those seeking something fine and unique to this day.
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.