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.
Although they originated in Germany's beautiful Rhine Valley, the Riesling grape soon spread around the world, where it thrives in many countries with a colder climate which can support this pale and unique grapes. Riesling grapes are considered one of the finest varietals on earth, capable of expressing fascinating features of the soil type they are grown on, resulting in some highly interesting wines with plenty to offer those who are looking for something different. Riesling grapes are also noted for their aromas, which tend to be highly perfumed, floral and often with smoky notes accentuating their unusual flavor Because this was always the predominant grape grown in Germany and other such countries, Riesling wineries have always been keen to experiment with its range. This has resulted in dry white wines, sparkling wines, semi sweet wines and several others, but the finest examples are usually considered to be the Riesling dessert wines. These are occasionally made with unusual processes, including the 'eiswine' method, in which the grapes are allowed to freeze in the early frosts, or by allowing the development of 'noble rot', which withers the grapes and results in some truly spectacular and unusual flavors.
Region: Rheingau / Rheinhessen
Rheingau in Germany is one of the country's most prodigious and well respected wine regions, with the south facing slopes of the mountains in the area producing Riesling grape vines of exceedingly high quality. The region has a wine making history which stretches back for centuries, and the wineries of Rheingau have long since mastered the art of expressing the beautiful, windswept and mineral rich terroir through their characterful white wines. With only three thousand hectares of Rheingau being under vine, the region is relatively small, yet has been home to many of the country's finest wines, and a large proportion of the most important viticultural innovations of Germany. Whilst Riesling is by far the most popular grape varietal in Rheingau, Pinot Noir is also grown quite widely, and today, many wineries are continuing to experiment with new grape varietals in order to make a wider range of wines.
Despite being known primarily for sweet and semi-sweet white wines, Germany actually produces a surprisingly large and varied range of wines, with many reaching an extremely high standard and being very well received on the world stage. The terrain across much of the southern parts of the country is extremely fertile, with mineral rich soils adding a wonderful edge to already excellent grapes, and thus resulting in delicious and highly elegant white and rosÃ© wines. The climate in many parts of Germany also allows for some more unusual wine-making practices, with certain regions specializing in the highly aromatic and distinctive 'ice-wines' which are gaining popularity by those looking for something a little more intense and unusual. With these wines, the producers allow the grapes to freeze through the early frosts, resulting in a higher sugar content and a fantastic set of flavors and aromas in the finished product. Germany has long since favored quality over quantity, and a new enthusiasm for fine wine within the country is producing truly exciting results, using a blending of traditional and contemporary techniques.