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: Chenin Blanc
Chenin Blanc is widely recognized as being one of the finest and most versatile white wine grape varietals in the world. In their native home of France's Loire Valley, wineries have used this varietal for centuries to produce a wide range of excellent wines, made possible by the fact that the high acidity in the grapes allows vintners to produce everything from dry, still varieties, to sparkling crÃ©mants and sweet dessert wines. One of the key features of this grape, and one which has won it many admirers, is the fact that the transparency of the varietal allows it to express the finer features of the terroir it is grown on, and also allows it to demonstrate the skill of the winemaker in the bottle. These grapes are a hardy varietal, growing well in moderate climates and in heavy clay-like soils all over the wine producing world.
When it comes to New World wine regions, it is widely agreed that many of the finest wines are grown and produced in California. The long stretches of coastline and the valleys and mountainsides which come off them are ideal areas for vine cultivation, and for over a century now, wineries have found a perfect home in the hot, dry state, with many of the wines produced here going on to reach world class status. The state is greatly helped by the brisk oceanic winds which cool the otherwise hot and dry vineyards, which hold mineral rich soils covering vast areas and featuring many established wineries. The state is split into four main regions, the largest by far being the central valley which stretches over three hundred miles in length.
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: Santa Barbara
California is one of the New World's truly great wine producing countries, and within the state, there are few regions quite as enduringly popular or successful as Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara benefits from the fantastic sunshine the state is famous for, as well as the cooling and temperate Pacific Ocean winds which help to slow the ripening process and ensure the grapes which thrive there end up expressing more flavor and aroma in the bottle. The region itself is renowned for producing high quality and flavorful red wines, commonly made from classic French grape varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon. However, recent years have seen the wineries of Santa Barbara eager to experiment, and today several different red and white wine grapes are growing well in this beautiful region.