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.
The pale skinned fruits of the Riesling grapevine have been grown in and around Germany's Rhine Valley for centuries, and contributed much to the country's wine culture. Today, Riesling grapes are grown and processed in several countries around the world, where they are prized for their ability to grow well in colder climates, and their unique flavors and characteristics. Riesling grapes produce an impressive array of wines, including fine semi sweet and dessert wines, to excellent dry white wines and sparkling varieties, all which allow the grape to shine through as a premier example of an excellent white wine varietal. One of the things which makes Riesling such a special grape is the fact that it is highly 'terroir expressive', meaning that the features of the land it is grown on can come across well in the flavors and aromas in the wine. As such, it isn't unusual to find flavors of white stone, or smoky ash-like notes in a fine Riesling alongside the more usual orchard fruit flavors more commonly associated with good white wines.
Region: Rheingau / Rheinhessen
The beautiful German wine region of Rheingau is home to many of the country's most famous and highly respected white wines, with many of the Riesling wines to come out of this mountainous area being widely considered to be amongst the finest on earth. The reason for this is due to the fact that when processed carefully and correctly, the Riesling grape is capable of expressing much of the terroir it is grown on, and there are few better terroirs in the world for this grape varietal than those found in Rheingau. With mineral rich soils, crisp, clear mountain water and cool, gentle climatic conditions, the grapes here grow and ripen slowly, producing fruit of exceptional quality and wines of real character and distinction. Today, the region of Rheingau is also growing Pinot Noir grapes, and experimenting with several other varietals in an attempt to widen its international appeal as a region.
Much has changed over the past few decades in regards to German wine. Long gone are the days of mass produced, sickly sweet white wines which were once the chief exports of this fascinating and ancient wine producing country, and they have been replaced with something far more sophisticated. Whilst Germany continues to produce a relatively large amount of dessert wine, the wineries of the south of the country have reverted their attention to the production of drier, more elegant wines which really make the most of the fine grape varieties which flourish there. Many of the wineries dealing primarily with the excellent Riesling grapes have produced some truly exceptional dry and semi-sweet wines over the past few years, and it seems the world has finally woken up and noticed the extremely high quality of the distinctive produce coming out of Germany today.