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.
Varietal: Champagne Blend
The sparkling wines of Champagne have been revered by wine drinkers for hundreds of years, and even today they maintain their reputation for excellence of flavor and character, and are consistently associated with quality, decadence, and a cause for celebration. Their unique characteristics are partly due to the careful blending of a small number of selected grape varietals, most commonly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These grapes, blended in fairly equal quantities, give the wines of Champagne their wonderful flavors and aromas, with the Pinot Noir offering length and backbone, and the Chardonnay varietal giving its acidity and dry, biscuity nature. It isn't unusual to sometimes see Champagne labeled as 'blanc de blanc', meaning it is made using only Chardonnay varietal grapes, or 'blanc de noir', which is made solely with Pinot Noir.
The beautiful Spanish wine region of Catalunya has a history of viticulture which stretches back for over a thousand years, and has been influenced by a wide range of people who moved through the region, and brought their wine making skills and expertise with them. The region itself is a sizeable one, covering an area of sixty thousand hectares, and within this space there resides over two hundred individual wineries, ranging from small, independent and traditional ones to the larger, mass production bodegas known around the world. The terroir of Catalunya is varied, and ranges from being dry and arid, to more lush and green in the wetter parts of the region which are closer to the coast. This variation in terroir results in a fantastic range of grape varietals being grown, and a wide range of wine styles are produced within Catalunya.
For over two thousand years, Spain has been responsible for much of Europe's wine production, making the very best of native grape varietals, and more recently experimenting with and perfecting wines made from imported grapes. Of course, the region of La Rioja is renowned world-wide for the quality and characteristics of its wines, which benefit greatly from the warm, dry continental climate of the area, and the fertile soils of the Ebro river basin. However, there is far more to Spanish produce than the complex, aromatic and earthy red wine of this region, as a result of the vast range of wine making traditions and practices, and terrains and climatic conditions found across the country. The region Castilla y Leon produces some of Europe's finest white wines, and the sparkling wines of Cava and the sherries of Jerez are firm favorites for wine lovers around the world.