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: Gruner Veltliner
The highly versatile Gruner Veltliner varietal grapes have been grown for many centuries in central and eastern European countries, and are still widely drunk and celebrated around Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Whilst they are not seen much elsewhere around the world, in recent years they have been cultivated in certain parts of the United States and in a few other New World countries. These pale skinned grapes grow most successfully in cooler climates, and are popular with wineries due to the fact that they are relatively hardy and resistant to disease. Gruner Veltliner grapes are also much appreciated for the fact that they hold some unique flavors which come about because they express their terroir very well, and are often most commonly associated with flavors of citrus fruits, peaches and peppery, tobacco notes.
When it comes to Austrian wine, the one region which is widely considered to stand head and shoulders above the rest is the Wachau. Located in the beautiful lower parts of the country, along the banks of the mighty river Danube, the vineyards of Wachau have been producing high quality white and red wines for centuries, and were once considered amongst the finest in Europe. Indeed, during the heights of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Wachau wines were amongst the favorites of the crowned heads of Europe, and they remain popular today with those seeking the ultimate in elegance and refinement. The vast majority of wines made in the Wachau region are produced from the grapes of the Gruner Veltliner and Riesling varietals, two grapes which are perfectly suited to the climatic conditions and soil type of the region.
Austria is a fascinating country when it comes to wine production, and with a wine culture that stretches back over four thousand years, it is one of the oldest viticultural centers in the world. Today, it is the GrÃ¼ner Veltliner varietal grape which is the most widely grown and processed, producing elegant dry white wines, and very flavorful and aromatic sweet wines enjoyed to a great extent by local communities, and which are beginning to receive the recognition they deserve by the global wine market. Austria's eastern flatlands benefit from fertile and mineral rich soils, fed by the great river Danube, as well as the long hot summers the country enjoys with low precipitation. Today, over fifty thousand hectares of Austrian land is under vine, and even within the city limits of Vienna, high quality wine is produced and enjoyed.