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 rise in popularity of Pinot Grigio (also known as Pinot Gris) wines over the past decade has led to this particular grape varietal being planted in many countries around the world in enormous quantities. These grapes range in color from grayish blue to lilac and amber, and with many shades in between. However, they are most prized for their wide range of flavors and aromas, and their relatively high level of 'transparency', or the ability to put across elements of their terroir in the bottle. The Pinot Grigio varietal also has a relatively high natural sugar content, which means that wineries have plenty of scope when it comes to processing their juices, resulting in semi-sweet Pinot Grigio wines, or very lean, crisp and dry examples depending on how much fermentation has been allowed.
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
Of all the New World wine countries, perhaps the one which has demonstrated the most flair for producing high quality wines - using a combination of traditional and forward-thinking contemporary methods - has been the United States of America. For the past couple of centuries, the United States has set about transforming much of its suitable land into vast vineyards, capable of supporting a wide variety of world-class grape varietals which thrive on both the Atlantic and the Pacific coastlines. Of course, we immediately think of sun-drenched California in regards to American wines, with its enormous vineyards responsible for the New World's finest examples of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot based wines, but many other states have taken to viticulture in a big way, with impressive results. Oregon, Washington State and New York have all developed sophisticated and technologically advanced wine cultures of their own, and the output of U.S wineries is increasing each year as more and more people are converted to their produce.
Appellation: Willamette Valley
The beautiful wine region of Willamette Valley is located in Oregon, one of the main wine producing states of the USA. As in much of Oregon, Willamette Valley benefits enormously from the long, hot summers the state enjoys, and the mineral rich soils which typify the wine regions found there. Willamette Valley has built up a powerful reputation over the past few decades as one of the New World's leading producers of high quality, flavorful and characterful Pinot Noir wines, as the grapes of the Pinot Noir vine thrive particularly well in the region's climatic conditions. Willamette Valley is a fascinating wine region, and is a fine representative for the state of Oregon. Innovative techniques and wine making methods are fairly commonplace there, and the overall produce of the region seems to get better each year.