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.
Of all the white wine grape varietals, surely the one which has spread the furthest and is most widely appreciated is the Chardonnay. This green skinned grape is now grown all over the Old and New Worlds, from New Zealand to the Americas, from England to Chile, and is one of the first varietals people think of when considering white wine grapes. Perhaps this is because of its huge popularity which reached a peak in the 1990s, thanks to new technologies combining with traditional methods to bring the very best features out of the Chardonnay grape, and allow its unique qualities to shine through. Most fine Chardonnay wines use a process known as malolactic fermentation, wherein the malic acids in the grape juice are converted to lactic acids, allowing a creamier, buttery nature to come forward in the wine. No grape varietal is better suited to this process than Chardonnay, which manages to balance these silky, creamy notes with fresh white fruit flavors beautifully.
The beautiful state of Oregon has, over the past few decades, become increasingly well known and respected for its wine industry, with several small but significant wineries within the state receiving world wide attention for the quality of their produce. Whilst the first vineyards within Oregon were planted in the 1840s, the state's wine industry didn't really take off until the 1960s, when several wine producers from California discovered that the cooler regions of the state were ideal for cultivating various fine grape varietals. Today, Oregon has over four hundred and fifty wineries in operation, the vast majority of which are used for the production of wines made from Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir varietal grapes, both of which thrive in the valleys and mountainsides which characterise the landscape of the state.
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
Oregon is a fascinating state when it comes to United States' wines. Although not as famous as nearby California, Oregon has been consistently lauded for its dedication to quality, experimentation and innovation over recent decades, helping it establish a powerful wine industry with a great reputation. Within Oregon, we find the beautiful wine region of Willamette Valley, a lush a fertile region most commonly associated with the production of high quality Pinot Noir grapes, which are internationally recognized as being responsible for many of the New World's finest red wines. Whilst the Pinot Noir grape is the most commonly grown across the region, the climatic conditions and soil types in Willamette Valley make it an ideal location for the cultivation of many different varietals, making it a very interesting area to explore through wine.