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 Shiraz or Syrah grape varietal has seen a huge surge in popularity over the past few decades, partly due to the fact that more and more wineries around the world are beginning to plant and process this robust and flavorful grape for international audiences. This varietal has plenty going for it, and has the special ability of being able to clearly express positive features of its terroir in the bottle, alongside its characteristic flavors of dark berries, pepper and other spices. Shiraz/Syrah is also notably a highly versatile grape, and has been successfully used in several type of still red wine, as well as excellent sparkling and fortified wines. It is also regularly used as a blending grape, where it is prized for its ability to add a bold and strong, spicy punch to mellow, blended wines.
Located near the city of Adelaide, the Barossa Valley is one of Australia's principle wine producing regions, benefiting as it does from the cool climate which typifies the sloping valley sides and the excellent soil that is found there. Founded by German settlers in the late 19th century, Barossa Valley has long since been associated with the high quality Shiraz varietal grapes which are grown there, and have since become the flagship grape varietal for the best of Australia's produce, celebrated widely for their intensity of flavor and dark, complex character. However, recent years have seen the innovative wineries which cover this region experiment with plenty of other grape varietals, and plenty of success has been found with Grenache, Chardonnay and Semillon, amongst several others.
With over sixteen thousand hectares of Australian land now under vine, Australia has become something of a world leader in regards to wine production. One of Australia's key attributes to their success has been their willingness to leave traditional vineyard practices to one side, and develop techniques which are perfectly suited to a New World country. Modern Australian wineries take into consideration the climate and the unique soil types which cover much of their country, and have had fantastic results from cross-breeding programs and blending practices which make the most of the grape varietals which thrive most successfully there, notably the Shiraz and Chardonnay grapes. In recent years, Australia has been lauded as the 'most influential' wine producing country in the world, and the rest of the New World is looking down under for inspiration, and the ability to produce comparable fine wines on their own terrain.