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.
There continues to be much debate surrounding the name of the Shiraz/Syrah grape varietal, with many experts still quite unsure which came first. Indeed, even the origins of this varietal are more or less unknown, despite it being most commonly associated with the Rhone Valley of France, and New World countries, most notably Australia. However, its popularity and unique characteristics have seen it planted all over the world, where it continues to impress with its powerful flavors and wonderfully spicy notes of pepper and clove. Shiraz/Syrah wines are renowned also for their versatility, and are regularly used in single variety still and sparkling wines, as well as blended and oak aged wines which demonstrate its ability to express its terroir and secondary flavors very well.
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.