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.
One of the more popular grape varietals to come primarily out of the New World in recent decades has been the Zinfandel, a thin-skinned grape which thrives in warm climates and produces wines which carry a wide range of flavors Indeed, Zinfandel grapes are highly varied depending on the climate and time of harvesting, displaying everything from sweet berries to spicy anise when harvested young, and producing excellent dessert wine when the grapes are left to over-ripen in the sun. Zinfandel varietal grapes are renowned for being one of the species which is highly capable of showing off the best features of the terroir they are grown on. This is partly due to those thin skins, and the light tannins they provide, allowing all sorts of other features and influences to shine through in the fermented juices. However, these grapes are quite delicate and not so easy to grow successfully, being highly sensitive to rot or from drying out when the weather is too hot.
California as a wine producing region has grown in size and importance considerably over the past couple of centuries, and today is the proud producer of more than ninety percent of the United States' wines. Indeed, if California was a country, it would be the fourth largest producer of wine in the world, with a vast range of vineyards covering almost half a million acres. The secret to California's success as a wine region has a lot to do with the high quality of its soils, and the fact that it has an extensive Pacific coastline which perfectly tempers the blazing sunshine it experiences all year round. The winds coming off the ocean cool the vines, and the natural valleys and mountainsides which make up most of the state's wine regions make for ideal areas in which to cultivate a variety of high quality grapes.
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: Monterey County
On the hot and sunny Californian coast, we find the relatively small and discreet wine region of Monterey County. This wine region has become renowned in recent decades not just for the high quality and flavorful characteristics of its red and white wines, but also for the enthusiasm wine-makers in the region have for experimentation and innovation in viticulture. Indeed, wineries in Monterey County are famous for their cloning and cross-breeding techniques, resulting in an impressive array of successful Italian and French grape varietals made perfectly suited for the local terroir and climate. There are also plenty of organic, biodynamic and sustainable wineries in Monterey County, making it an interesting and unique location for quality New World wines of great distinction, flavor and overall character.