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.
Although primarily associated with the Rhone region of France, the precise origins of the Viognier grape variety are unknown, and the subject of much debate. However, these fine and delicate green skinned grapes are an important varietal for many of France's most elegant white wines, and they are quickly beginning to spread around the New World, too, where wineries are discovering their unique qualities and unusual character. Viognier grapes are notoriously difficult to grow, due to the fact they are highly susceptible to mildew, but wineries persevere with them nonetheless, producing wines which are highly aromatic and have a great, fruit-forward character. Their delicate aroma suggests sweetness due to its flowery, sappy nature, but the wine itself generally very dry and crisp, and full of summery, light and refined qualities.
Tuscany is probably Italy's most important and widely respected wine region, with a history which stretches back almost three thousand years, and a set of fine grape varietals which produce some of the most delicious quality white and red wines in the world. Sangiovese and Vernaccia varietal grapes are grown all over this expansive region, and the way they are handled, aged and processed varies from town to town. The beautiful hot climate of Tuscany helps these grapes reach full ripeness, despite the fact the soil of the region is generally problematic for the vintners who work there. Despite this, there is a dedication to quality and flavor in Tuscany which is more or less unmatched anywhere else in Italy, and a great mix of strong tradition and willingness to experiment and think outside the box which has been a wonderful recipe for success in the region.
It isn't difficult to understand why Italy is famed not just for the quality of its wines, but also for the vast variety and range of characteristics found in the wines there. The terrain of the country varies wildly, from the lush rolling green hills and valley of Tuscany, to the sun drenched rocky coasts of Sicily, the mountainous and alpine regions of the north, and the marshy lowlands of the east. Italy really does have a little bit of everything. Combine this huge range of landscapes with an almost perfect climate for grape cultivation, and you have a country seemingly designed for viticultural excellence. The results speak for themselves, and it is clear to see that wine has become an inseparable part of Italian culture as a result of its abundance and brilliance. Each village, city and region has a local wine perfectly matched with the cuisine of the area, and not an evening passes without the vast majority of Italian families raising a glass of locally sourced wine with pride and pleasure.