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: Pinot Gris
The Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris grape varietal is now one of the most widely grown vines in the world, due to the surge in popularity of Pinot Grigio wines over the past twenty years or so. These grayish-blue fruits, which hang in their distinctively conical bunches, are responsible for a very broad range of wines famous for their variety of color tones and flavors Pinot Grigio varietal grapes are highly influenced by terroir, climate and particularly the skill and expertise of the vintners who process them. As such, there are full bodied, amber colored wines made from this grape, and there are equally delicious yet far leaner, paler, lighter bodied and crisp white wines made from the same species in other parts of the world.
Oregon today has a thriving and unique wine industry, quite unlike that found in other areas of the United States. With a particularly strong organic, vegan and biodynamic wine industry currently gaining world wide attention, Oregon is home to many trailblazers and alternative wineries keen to experiment with the vines which thrive so well in the valleys and mountainsides which characterise their region. Oregon is best known for their Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir varietal grapes, which produce elegant wines packed full of bright and interesting fruit flavours, although a wide range of classic grape varietals grow across the state. With over three hundred wineries currently operating in Oregon, and many more set to open, this is a New World wine region to watch out for now and in the near future.
Country: United States
Whilst there are several strains of native grape varietals in the United States, it was the introduction of the European species which prompted the country to begin producing wines on a large scale. Over the past few centuries, experimentation and cross-breeding has produced great successes in regards to the quality and suitability of the fruit grown in states such as California, Oregon, Washington and New York, and the past few decades have seen New World wines from the United States reach much higher standards. Arguably the finest United States wines have always come out of California, where the climate and terrroir is most suitable for fine wine production. The masterful blending of classic grape varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, amongst others including Syrah and Chardonnay, have had world beating results in recent years, prompting many to suggest that there has never been a better time for buying and drinking United States wines.
Appellation: Willamette Valley
When it comes to high quality United States wine regions, the state of Oregon certainly has its fair share. One of the key wine producing regions of Oregon is Willamette Valley, a beautiful region specializing in the production of carefully constructed and extremely flavorful Pinot Noir wines, which have gained popularity around the world as a result of their deliciously fruity nature and excellent range of characteristics. However, Willamette Valley's wine industry doesn't begin and end with this grape varietal, as wineries within the region are renowned for their love of innovation and experimentation, and are consistently experimenting with a range of fine grapes. As such, a wide array of wines come out of Willamette Valley each year, to an increasingly impressed international wine community.