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
The sparkling wines of Champagne have been revered by wine drinkers for hundreds of years, and even today they maintain their reputation for excellence of flavor and character, and are consistently associated with quality, decadence, and a cause for celebration. Their unique characteristics are partly due to the careful blending of a small number of selected grape varietals, most commonly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These grapes, blended in fairly equal quantities, give the wines of Champagne their wonderful flavors and aromas, with the Pinot Noir offering length and backbone, and the Chardonnay varietal giving its acidity and dry, biscuity nature. It isn't unusual to sometimes see Champagne labeled as 'blanc de blanc', meaning it is made using only Chardonnay varietal grapes, or 'blanc de noir', which is made solely with Pinot Noir.
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.
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.