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
One of the most versatile and interesting white wine grape varietals widely grown around the world is surely the Pinot Grigio. This grape comes in many different shades and colors, and unsurprisingly, it can also provide a remarkable range of flavors and aromas in the bottle. It is a varietal quite strongly influenced by both the terroir it is grown in, as well as by the expertise and intentions of the winery which is processing it. As such, many Pinot Grigio wines are relatively sweet, due to their high level of natural sugar. However, they can also be very dry for the same reasons, and in many countries they are aged and mellowed, resulting in beautiful tawny amber tones and a very rounded, full bodied character quite unlike white wines made from any other grape varietal.
Since the 1840s, vineyards have been cultivated and wines have been produced within the beautiful state of Oregon, which is now the United States' third biggest producer of fine wines. Although best known for their Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir wines, which have won several awards in recent years, Oregon is home to a surprisingly large range of fine grape varietals. Chardonnay, Merlot and Riesling also all flourish in the cooler areas of Oregon, and there are plenty of wineries across the state keen to experiment with all sorts of Old World classic varietals, as well as many of the hybrid grapes which characterise the country's wine industry. Oregon is also well known for its organic and biodynamic wine industry, making it a fascinating region for new ideas and new styles of wines, all of which are quickly gaining popularity around the world.
Country: United States
For three hundred years now, the United States has been leading the New World in wine production, both in regards to quantity and quality. Wine is actually produced in all fifty states across the country, with California leading the way by an enormous margin. Indeed, as much as eighty-nine percent of all wines to come out of the United States are produced in California, where the fertile soils and sloping mountain sides, coupled with the long, hot summers provide ideal conditions for producing high quality, European style red, white and rosÃ© wines. With over a million acres of the country under vine, the United States sits comfortably as the fourth largest wine producer in the world, where imported grape varietals from all over the Old World are processed using a successful blend of traditional and contemporary techniques.
Appellation: Willamette Valley
Oregon is a fascinating state when it comes to United States' wines. Although not as famous as nearby California, Oregon has been consistently lauded for its dedication to quality, experimentation and innovation over recent decades, helping it establish a powerful wine industry with a great reputation. Within Oregon, we find the beautiful wine region of Willamette Valley, a lush a fertile region most commonly associated with the production of high quality Pinot Noir grapes, which are internationally recognized as being responsible for many of the New World's finest red wines. Whilst the Pinot Noir grape is the most commonly grown across the region, the climatic conditions and soil types in Willamette Valley make it an ideal location for the cultivation of many different varietals, making it a very interesting area to explore through wine.