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.
Whilst there remains plenty of debate over which is the 'correct' name for the Shiraz/Syrah grape varietal, nobody is in any doubt about the influence and popularity this grape has had over recent decades. For centuries, this varietal has been used in single variety and blended wines in the regions of France it is most closely associated with, yet the 20th century saw it become one of the definitive grape varietals of New World red wines, where its big, robust character and spicy, berry-rich flavors proved to be a hit with international audiences. Today, Shiraz/Syrah is said to be the seventh most widely planted grape varietal in the world, and is used for a remarkably wide variety of quality red wines â€“ including still, sparkling and fortified varieties.
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.