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: Cabernet Franc
For many centuries now, Cabernet Franc has been a grape varietal deeply associated with high quality wines. It is now grown all over the world, and is generally used as a grape for blending in the production of fine, aged Bordeaux-style wines, generally considered to be amongst the best in the world in regards to flavor and complexity. The vine itself thrives in cooler, valley regions in many countries, and tends to ripen quite early, allowing wineries to make the most of its fantastic range of aromas and distinctive bright, pale red color Cabernet Franc is still often used for single variety wines, and is popular with those looking for a grape varietal which offers unusual aromas, with everything from raspberries to tobacco coming off the glass.
Region: Judean Hills
The ancient Judean Hills in Israel is possibly one of the world's most interesting wine regions, with a history which dates back to biblical times, and which has helped shape the world we live in today. The region was cultivating grapevines in ancient times, however, several times throughout the history of the Judean Hills and the surrounding areas, alcohol production and consumption was prohibited, and vineyards destroyed. The wine industry in the Judean Hills was resurrected sometime in the early 19th century, and it took the billionaire Rothschild family to bring it to its feet, and create the successful wine region that it is today. Hundreds of vineyards were planted with vines imported from the Bordeaux region of France, and before long, the hot climate and rich soils had helped produce healthy and flavorful crops, full of the fascinating flavors and aromas associated with the region to this day.
Israel has long been a country associated with wines, with plenty of historical evidence pointing out the significance of wines in biblical times and most likely even before then. Of course, when the country was under Islamic rule, many of the vineyards were destroyed and wine production ceased completely, but today Israel enjoys a thriving wine industry and is frequently recognized as a producer of fine wines which have a growing global audience, helped by the fact that most wines of the country are made with kosher certification. Israel enjoys a Mediterranean climate, and has plenty of mineral rich soil on which to grow vines. There are several micro climates across the country, formed by the geographical features of the land, and wineries have had a long and successful relationship with the imported French grape varietals which flourish there.