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.
Albarino grapes are very pale in color, and grow best in hot and humid regions. They have their origin in Spain, and are cultivated in huge numbers all over the Iberian coastlines, where they are widely enjoyed and have contributed much to the white wine culture of Spain and Portugal. Today, they are grown in several countries around the world, in regions which have the right climatic conditions in which they can fully ripen and express their unique qualities and characteristics. These light green skinned grapes are prized for their relatively high acid content, which results in tart, sharp wines balanced by their natural flavors of peach and apricot. The grapes produce highly aromatic wines, with a pleasant level of bitterness brought about by the fruit's thick skins.
The region of Galicia in northern Spain is an unusual place for viticulture, with its wet and windy weather and strong Atlantic influences. However, for several hundred years, Galicia was an important center of wine making, and an extremely important center of trade, bringing lots of money to the region which further boosted its reputation, along with the quality and quantity of its wines. However, the 19th century saw a devastating economic collapse in Galicia, and all over the region, vineyards were left to ruin, and wineries closed. Thankfully, the past few decades have seen the region undergo a renaissance, and traditional, quintessentially Galician wines are once more being produced from fine grape varietals native to the region, including the delicate and aromatic Albarino and Caino Blanca, which are often blended to produce characterful and unique wines.
Ever since the Phoenicians and Romans brought their knowledge of vine cultivation to Spanish soils, the country's culture has grown alongside wine production, with wine being a vital part of Spanish identity and Spanish traditions. Each region of Spain has a wine quite distinct from the others, and it is produced by smallholders and families as much as it is by large companies and established wineries. From the relatively mild and lush regions of La Rioja to the arid plateaus that surround Madrid, grapes are grown in abundance for the now booming Spanish wine industry, and new laws and regulations have recently been put in place to keep the country's standards high. By combining traditional practices with modern technology, Spanish wineries are continuing to produce distinctive wines of great character, flavor and aroma, with the focus shifting in recent decades to quality over quantity.