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
The Judean Hills are one of the world's most culturally and historically important areas, with millennia of history which has helped to shape the world in which we live today. Wine production and vineyard cultivation has actually been taking place in this ancient region since Biblical times, making this essentially New World wine region a very old one indeed, and giving historical and traditional clout to the relatively small wineries which operate there. As with most of the wineries in Israel, those in the Judean Hills use mostly imported French varietals, first introduced to the region in the mid 19th century by the Rothschild family, who wanted to boost the wine industry of the country. Today, the Judean Hills produce the country's finest Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines.
Since biblical times, Israel has been an important production center for wine, and continues to be so to this day. All over Israel, the Mediterranean climate the country enjoys ensures that grapes grow to full ripeness, and the vineyards are helped considerably by the mineral rich limestone soils which typify the geology of the wine regions. Interestingly, in Israel, up to fifteen percent of all wine production today is used for sacramental purposes, and the vast majority of the wines produced there are made in accordance to Jewish kosher laws. Israel is split into five major wine producing regions; Galil, The Judean Hills, Shimshon, The Negev, and the Sharon Plain, and in recent years the wine industry of Israel has brought over twenty five million dollars per annum to the Israeli economy.