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.
Whilst the Oregon wine industry didn't really take off until the 1960s, it actually has a wine-making history which stretches back to the pioneer days, with the first successful vineyards being cultivated back in the early 19th century. Today, Oregon is the United States' third biggest wine producing state, with over three hundred wineries operating there and making the most of the cooler climatic conditions which characterise much of the region, and have proved ideal for the growing of a range of fine grape varietals. The state is best known for their Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir wines, but also produces excellent Chardonnay, Merlot and Riesling grapes. The valleys and mountainsides of Oregon are also excellent for producing Old World classic varietals alongside American hybrid grapes, and the state has become renowned as a trailblazer in the field of organic, vegan and biodynamic wines.
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
The beautiful state of Oregon is home to many productive and important wine producing regions, and one of the most important and widely renowned is Willamette Valley, a lush and fertile region internationally famed for its high quality, flavorful and characterful Pinot Noir wines. Willamette Valley is an ideal location for the Pinot Noir grape, as the long, hot summers and balmy ripening seasons allow the grapes to reach full ripeness, and express their deliciously luxurious flavors and aromas. However, plenty of other grape varietals also thrive in Willamette Valley, and the region is renowned for its dedication to quality, experimentation and innovation, with many wineries increasingly keen to expand their portfolios and show the world just how good and varied the Oregon wine scene can be.