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: Pinot Noir
Whilst the Pinot Noir grape varietal has its origins in France, and is most closely associated with fine Burgundy wines, it is now grown in almost every wine producing country in the world. There are many reasons for this â€“ the densely packed, deep black bunches of fruits are responsible for making a wide variety of excellent wines, generally agreed to be amongst the most drinkable and accessible one can find. With flavors ranging from currants and red and black berries, to more earthy, spicy notes, Pinot Noir is a versatile varietal which is revered for its relatively light body and beautifully vivid red color However, the grapes themselves are notoriously susceptible to various diseases, and struggle in fluctuating climates. This has not stopped wineries planting and cultivating these vines, though, as Pinot Noir, when grown carefully and treated properly, is a grape with a wide and increasing fan-base, and more often than not produces wonderful wines.
California has long been the New World's most important and prodigious wine producing regions, with a history which stretches back to the 18th century and the Spanish pioneers who settled here. Today, California produces vast quantities of wine, and if it were a country, it would be the fourth largest producer of wine on earth. Despite experiencing many problems in the mid 20th century, including a very serious blight which almost crippled the state's wine industry, the ideal terroir and excellent climate ensured that Californian wines soon became the envy of the New World once again. California produces a vast range of wines, and utilizes a long list of fine grape varietals, with many wineries and their produce more closely resembling those of France and other Old World countries in regards to character, practices and flavors
Country: United States
Whilst there are several strains of native grape varietals in the United States, it was the introduction of the European species which prompted the country to begin producing wines on a large scale. Over the past few centuries, experimentation and cross-breeding has produced great successes in regards to the quality and suitability of the fruit grown in states such as California, Oregon, Washington and New York, and the past few decades have seen New World wines from the United States reach much higher standards. Arguably the finest United States wines have always come out of California, where the climate and terrroir is most suitable for fine wine production. The masterful blending of classic grape varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, amongst others including Syrah and Chardonnay, have had world beating results in recent years, prompting many to suggest that there has never been a better time for buying and drinking United States wines.
Appellation: Sonoma Valley
Often referred to as the 'birthplace of Californian wines', the beautiful and expansive Sonoma Valley has long been seen as something of a vibrant and beating heart within the American wine industry. The 'valley of the moon', as it is affectionately known, benefits enormously from the blazing Californian sunshine it receives throughout the long, hot and dry summers, and exceptionally warm autumns in which the vast array of grape varietals found there ripen. Sonoma Valley is most famous for big, full-bodied and flavorful red wine grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as many excellent white wine grapes. Due to the volcanic soils of the region, fed by thermal springs packed full of minerals, the soil is wonderfully fertile and capable of supporting a wide variety of grape species.