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
Cabernet Franc is not simply an important grape varietal for the fact that it is one of the most widely grown strains of vine in the world, but also because it is a vital grape in the production of many of the finest wines the world has ever seen. For centuries in its native France, it has been a varietal synonymous with elegance and high quality, and has become a key fruit in the production of the Bordeaux and Bordeaux-style blended wines which have gone down in history thanks to their magnificent flavors, aromas and levels of aged complexity. However, Cabernet Franc is also a wine grape varietal for use in single variety, unblended wines, and has plenty to offer on its own. Most commonly, it is renowned for its wide bouquet, which often includes fascinating notes of tobacco, violets or bell pepper over a beautifully pale and decadent liquid.
Region: Judean Hills
Israel is a fascinating country for viticulture, and has a wine history which stretches back through the millennia, making it one of the most ancient wine producing countries in the world. Today, much of Israel's wine culture and industry is based in the ancient Judean Hills, a region which benefits from blazing sunshine and mineral rich soils, perfect for the imported grape varietals which thrive there. Indeed, the mid 19th century saw the Rothschild family bring over many of their finest Bordeaux vines from France, and the Judean Hills today are used primarily for the cultivated and processing of excellent quality Bordeaux varietal grapes. As the Judean Hills are in Israel, the vast majority of wines produced there are made alongside kosher purity laws, and are produced specifically for Jewish communities around the world.
For thousands of years, Israel has been an important country for wine production, with major wine regions growing thousands of acres of grapevines in the hot Mediterranean climate. The land itself is ideal for wine production, and has a mineral rich limestone based soil which helps ensure the grapes grow to full ripeness. Many of the vineyards of Israel are located at high altitudes, such as the popular and successful vineyards of Golan Heights in the Galil region, where the cooler temperatures and strong breezes create an ideal environment in which the imported French grape varietals can grow. Indeed, French grape varietals make up for the vast majority of grapes grown in Israel, with Cabernet Sauvigon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes growing in all five wine regions of the country.