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.
The pale skinned fruits of the Riesling grapevine have been grown in and around Germany's Rhine Valley for centuries, and contributed much to the country's wine culture. Today, Riesling grapes are grown and processed in several countries around the world, where they are prized for their ability to grow well in colder climates, and their unique flavors and characteristics. Riesling grapes produce an impressive array of wines, including fine semi sweet and dessert wines, to excellent dry white wines and sparkling varieties, all which allow the grape to shine through as a premier example of an excellent white wine varietal. One of the things which makes Riesling such a special grape is the fact that it is highly 'terroir expressive', meaning that the features of the land it is grown on can come across well in the flavors and aromas in the wine. As such, it isn't unusual to find flavors of white stone, or smoky ash-like notes in a fine Riesling alongside the more usual orchard fruit flavors more commonly associated with good white wines.
Alsace has to be one of the most fascinating regions of France, with a history which stretches back millennia, and demonstrates perfectly the kind of blended culture that can arise from being located on the border between two enormously important, yet very different countries. Indeed, being on the border between France and Germany has resulted in Alsatian wines being something of a mix between the wines of these two countries. Riesling varietal grapes are grown in enormous quantities here, and display all of their crisp, dry complexity perfectly in the famous wines of Alsace. Alongside this typically Germanic wine, Alsatian vintners also produce plenty of Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Muscat and Sauvignon Vert wines, all of which are superb when it comes to expressing the finer features of the wonderful Alsatian terroir.
It is widely understood and accepted that the finest wines in the world come out of France. Whether you are drinking a vintage bottle from one of the famed Grand Cru wineries of Bordeaux - such as Chateau Margaux or Chateau Lafite-Rothschild - or a more simple and affordable bottle from one of the lesser known appellations in Burgundy, the likelihood is that the wine is packed full of intense and interesting flavors, and has a fine, balanced structure typical of almost all French produce. This reputation for excellence is taken extremely serious by the French, with dozens of regularly updated laws and regulations ensuring the quality and accurate labeling of wines. Such dedication and passion for fine wine, representative of the region in which it is produced, means customers can be assured that when they buy a bottle from France, they are buying something almost certain to please and delight.