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 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.
The vineyards of Israel have long been associated with high quality wines, and the wineries which operate within the country use the fantastic Mediterranean climate and mineral rich soils to grow fine French grape varietals such as Cabernet Sauvigon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc all over the country. Israel has five major wine regions; Galil, The Judean Hills, Shimshon, The Negev, and the Sharon Plain, with many of the most successful vineyards being located at high altitudes to benefit from the cooler temperatures and stronger breezes the vines need to produce better yields. Today, Israeli wineries are proving to be highly successful with audiences around the world, and the fact that the vast majority of Israeli wines are made to kosher requirements mean they are often in high demand amongst the worldwide Jewish population, although they are also highly popular with people of all backgrounds.