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.
There continues to be much debate surrounding the name of the Shiraz/Syrah grape varietal, with many experts still quite unsure which came first. Indeed, even the origins of this varietal are more or less unknown, despite it being most commonly associated with the Rhone Valley of France, and New World countries, most notably Australia. However, its popularity and unique characteristics have seen it planted all over the world, where it continues to impress with its powerful flavors and wonderfully spicy notes of pepper and clove. Shiraz/Syrah wines are renowned also for their versatility, and are regularly used in single variety still and sparkling wines, as well as blended and oak aged wines which demonstrate its ability to express its terroir and secondary flavors very well.
Australia is known around the world for the high quality of its flavorful Shiraz wines, and Barossa Valley, near the city of Adelaide is surely the home of the finest Shiraz grapevines in the country. The first vineyards in the Barossa Valley were established in the late 19th century by German settlers, however today there are dozens of high quality and unique businesses operating in the region, making the most of the temperate continental climate the valley enjoys, and producing a wide range of wines made from various grape varietals. Whilst Shiraz grapes thrive particularly well in this part of Australia, there are now vineyards in Barossa Valley growing all kinds of red and white grape varietals, and showing a real flair for flavor, aroma and complexity brought about by a strong mix of traditional and modern techniques.
Despite much of Australia being covered by dry, arid deserts and bushland, the southern regions of the country and islands such as Tasmania have proved to be ideal for vineyard cultivation and wine production. The fertile soils and brisk oceanic breezes, coupled with the blazing Australian sunshine allow the grapes to grow to full ripeness before a late harvest, resulting in hugely flavorful wines which appeal to a wide international audience. Combine this with the experimental and daring approach Australian wineries have in regards to wine production, and it becomes clear why Australia has relatively quickly become something of a world leader when it come to exporting their produce to Europe and America. The Shiraz and Chardonnay grape varietals have produced the most successful and broadly appreciated results over the decades, however, in more recent years wineries have begun experimenting with a much wider range of grape varietals, demonstrating how Australian wineries are continuing to adapt and develop alongside international palates.