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
The blended red wines of Bordeaux have gone down in history as the finest wines every produced, with collectors and many of the general public still eagerly anticipating the wineries of this region's new releases to this day. The secret to Bordeaux's monumental success has been their careful blending of high quality grape varietals, controlled and protected by French law. In Bordeaux, wineries can only produce red wines using a blend of two or more of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec or CarmÃ©nere grape varietals, with the latter two becoming less and less commonly seen on bottles. The vast majority of Bordeaux red wines use Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grape varietals, boosted by a little Petit Verdot. These three grapes compliment each other beautifully as they age in oak, rounded out their tannins and the high astringency of the Sauvignon, and resulting in wonderfully complex flavors and aromas.
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.
France is renowned across the globe for its quality wines and the careful expertise which goes into making them, but what is truly remarkable about this relatively small country is the vast range of wines it produces in such huge amounts each year. Not only are the finest red wines in the world said to come from the beautiful regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, but elsewhere in the country we find the Champagne region, and areas such as the Rhone Valley and the Loire, whose white wines consistently receive awards and accolades by the plenty. This range is a result of the great variety of climatic conditions and terrain found in France, coupled with generations of wine makers working within single appellations. Their knowledge of specific terroirs and grape varieties has, over time, perfected the production of wines within their region, and the end results continue to impress the world to this day.
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.