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
There are few wine regions of the world with as much influence or fame as that of Champagne in France. The sparkling wines from this special area have long been associated with excellence and magnificent flavors, and much of their success has been down to the careful blending of fine grape varietals in order to achieve spectacular results. Most commonly, Champagne wines use both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietal grapes in more or less equal measures, often boosted by a small quantity of Pinot Meunier for extra bite. The Chardonnay varietal grapes offer their acidity and flavor to the bottle, and help with the dryness associated with quality in this type of wine. The Pinot Noir, on the other hand, gives strength to the wine, and gives Champagne its distinctive 'length' of character.
With sixty thousand hectares of prime land under vine, and over two hundred bodegas and wineries operating there, the Spanish region of Catalunya is a vitally important centre for Spanish wine production and viticulture. It seems this has been the case for several thousand years, and recent archaeological findings have proven that Catalunya has a wine history which pre-dates Roman Spain by a considerable margin, making it one of the oldest wine regions in the world. Catalan wines today are dominated by the ever popular sparkling Cava wines, made in the methode champenois, and drank across the globe as a fine replacement for the more expensive Champagne wines. However, the excellent climatic conditions and terroir of Catalunya means that the bodegas of the region can also produce excellent still red and white wines, made from the wide range of grape varietals which thrive there.
Ever since the Phoenicians and Romans brought their knowledge of vine cultivation to Spanish soils, the country's culture has grown alongside wine production, with wine being a vital part of Spanish identity and Spanish traditions. Each region of Spain has a wine quite distinct from the others, and it is produced by smallholders and families as much as it is by large companies and established wineries. From the relatively mild and lush regions of La Rioja to the arid plateaus that surround Madrid, grapes are grown in abundance for the now booming Spanish wine industry, and new laws and regulations have recently been put in place to keep the country's standards high. By combining traditional practices with modern technology, Spanish wineries are continuing to produce distinctive wines of great character, flavor and aroma, with the focus shifting in recent decades to quality over quantity.