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.
The Shiraz or Syrah grape varietal has seen a huge surge in popularity over the past few decades, partly due to the fact that more and more wineries around the world are beginning to plant and process this robust and flavorful grape for international audiences. This varietal has plenty going for it, and has the special ability of being able to clearly express positive features of its terroir in the bottle, alongside its characteristic flavors of dark berries, pepper and other spices. Shiraz/Syrah is also notably a highly versatile grape, and has been successfully used in several type of still red wine, as well as excellent sparkling and fortified wines. It is also regularly used as a blending grape, where it is prized for its ability to add a bold and strong, spicy punch to mellow, blended wines.
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.
For thousands of years now, Israel has been an important country when it comes to wine production. Today, wineries across Israel are having great success with the imported French varietals which have proven to be a fine match for the climate and soil types across the country, and grapes such as Cabernet Sauvigon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc make up for the vast majority of varietals grown on Israeli soil. Israel enjoys a Mediterranean climate in many parts of the country, and even more desert-type regions such as the Negev are proving to be ideal locations for viticulture, thanks to a combination of traditional and modern techniques, and advanced irrigation methods. Israeli wines are almost always made to kosher requirements, and as such have a high demand all over the world by Jewish communities, as well as being popular with many other people due to their quality and characteristics.