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 are few white wine grape varietals as famous or widely appreciated as the Chardonnay, and with good reason. This highly flexible and adaptable grape quickly became a favorite of wineries due to its fairly neutral character. This neutrality allows the wineries to really show off what they are capable of doing, by allowing features of their terroir or aging process to come forward in the bottle. As well as this, most high quality wineries which produce Chardonnay wines take great efforts to induce what is known as malolactic fermentation, which is the conversion of tart malic acids in the grapes to creamy, buttery lactic acids associated with fine Chardonnay. Whilst the popularity of Chardonnay wines has fluctuated quite a considerable amount over the past few decades, it seems the grape varietal allows enough experimentation and versatility for it always to make a successful comeback.
Whilst the Oregon wine industry didn't really take off until the 1960s, it actually has a wine-making history which stretches back to the pioneer days, with the first successful vineyards being cultivated back in the early 19th century. Today, Oregon is the United States' third biggest wine producing state, with over three hundred wineries operating there and making the most of the cooler climatic conditions which characterise much of the region, and have proved ideal for the growing of a range of fine grape varietals. The state is best known for their Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir wines, but also produces excellent Chardonnay, Merlot and Riesling grapes. The valleys and mountainsides of Oregon are also excellent for producing Old World classic varietals alongside American hybrid grapes, and the state has become renowned as a trailblazer in the field of organic, vegan and biodynamic wines.
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: Willamette Valley
Willamette Valley in Oregon may not be the most famous of the United States' wine regions, but it has a reputation for producing high quality wines which are the very essence of the land they are grown on, and it is consistently gaining international attention for its beautiful Pinot Noir wines. The wines of Willamette Valley are generally fruit-forward, elegant and lush, and full of the fine features of their terroir, making them a fascinating range of wines for lovers of New World produce. Whilst Pinot Noir is by far the most common grape grown in Willamette Valley, wineries of this region have a reputation for innovation and experimentation within viticultural circles, and are ever expanding their portfolios and experimenting with new varietals. As such, Willamette Valley is a highly interesting region to look into, with an impressive array of well crafted, delicious wines.