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.
Malbec grapes have been grown for centuries in the Old World, and whilst many wineries had and continue to have great success with these dark and rather demanding grapes, they are famously susceptible to rot and quickly lose their best features should the weather not be as good as they need it to be. As such, it is the New World Malbec wines which have really made this old and respected varietal a household name, and the many single variety bottles we see in our supermarkets and wine stores bearing this grape have been some of the biggest and most pleasing success stories of recent years. However, Malbec is often and was traditionally used as a blending grape, offering its strong tannins and heavy, plummy fruit flavors to milder, mellower wines to boost their character, and many of these blended wines rank amongst the finest in the world. As such, Malbec is a highly versatile grape which has spread across the globe to produce some very different results, each one pleasing, and each one packed with flavor and character.
Argentina's Cuyo region has, for several decades now, been renowned worldwide for the high quality of its fruit-forward and remarkably flavorful wines. The arid region includes such famous provinces as the Mendoza, and wineries in Cuyo often have generations of experience when it comes to making the most of the mineral rich yet arid soils which typify the mountainous landscape. The Desaguadero River and its tributaries form many natural valleys through the Cuyo region, and as such, irrigation has long since provided the dry and dusty vineyard with a fertile and crystal-clear water source, straight from the snowy peaks of the nearby Andes. Although Malbec is the grape varietal most commonly associated with Cuyo, wineries continue to experiment with other varietals there, and the wine industry of Cuyo in Argentina continues to go from strength to strength.
In the dry, arid deserts of Argentina, wineries and winemakers are focusing their efforts on producing high quality wines for the world market. By experimenting with both traditional and modern methods and technologies, they have found great success with a wide variety of grapes well suited to the conditions of the country, particularly Malbec, Bonarda and Cabernet Sauvignon. Over the past decade, Argentinian wineries have continued to aim high, and this has led to a range of new wines using grape varietals not typically associated with the country. The cooler regions of Argentina are seeing more vineyards being planted with Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir varietals, something that is beginning to produce fantastic results, which are at once representative of the country's wines - with all their fruity and bold character - but are also pushing the boundaries of what we expect from a New World country.