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: Red Bordeaux
There are few regions in the world with stricter regulations in regards to wine production and grape varietals than those found in Bordeaux, France. Here, in the home of the world's finest wines, the type and quality of grapes used is of utmost importance, and the legendary wineries which work on the banks of the Gironde river have mastered the careful art of juice blending to find the perfect balance for their produce. Whilst there are six 'official' Bordeaux grapes, the two key varietals for almost every fine Bordeaux wine are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and with good reason. Whilst Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are renowned for their acidity and astringency, strong fruit and spice flavors and full body, Merlot grapes are notably rounded, soft, fleshy and lighter on tannin. The combination of these two varietals, along with a small percentage of (commonly) Petit Verdot or Cabernet Franc, is the perfect balancing act â€“ the two grape varietals cancel out each others weaker points, and accentuate all that is good about the other.
The Bordeaux region of France is possibly the most famous and widely respected wine region in the world. Known primarily for its exceptional blended red wines, made most commonly with Cabernet Sauvigon, Merlot and Petit Verdot grape varietals, it also produces superb dry white wines (both blended and single variety), alongside the highly esteemed sweet wines of Sauternes. All of these wine types use a careful mix of traditional wine-making methods alongside modern techniques, as well as more experimental and unorthodox practices such as turning their grapes over to the noble rot which intensifies the flavors in the sweet wines. Bordeaux benefits greatly from its position amongst wide river basins, and the cooling Atlantic breezes which blow across the rolling vineyards which cover this region.
It is widely understood and accepted that the finest wines in the world come out of France. Whether you are drinking a vintage bottle from one of the famed Grand Cru wineries of Bordeaux - such as Chateau Margaux or Chateau Lafite-Rothschild - or a more simple and affordable bottle from one of the lesser known appellations in Burgundy, the likelihood is that the wine is packed full of intense and interesting flavors, and has a fine, balanced structure typical of almost all French produce. This reputation for excellence is taken extremely serious by the French, with dozens of regularly updated laws and regulations ensuring the quality and accurate labeling of wines. Such dedication and passion for fine wine, representative of the region in which it is produced, means customers can be assured that when they buy a bottle from France, they are buying something almost certain to please and delight.
Appellation: Saint Emilion
There are few wine regions in the world quite as famous or respected as France's Bordeaux, and within Bordeaux, the one sub-region which stands head and shoulders above the rest is Saint Emilion. This very special area benefits enormously from both fine climatic conditions and superb soils â€“ mainly clay and gravel based â€“ alongside the nutrients and moisture supplied by the ancient Gironde river. Most wineries in Saint Emilion blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot varietal grapes for the production of their blended red wines, but unblended bottles are also regularly produced, to extremely high standards. The region is one steeped in history and tradition, and remains one of France's premier wine producing regions recognized worldwide for its quality and excellence.