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.
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
The first European settlers to consider growing grapevines in the United States must have been delighted when they discovered the now famous wine regions within California, Oregon and elsewhere. Not even in the Old World are there such fertile valleys, made ideal for vine cultivation by the blazing sunshine, long, hot summers and oceanic breezes. As such, it comes as little surprise that today more than eighty-nine percent of United States wines are grown in the valleys and on the mountainsides of California, where arguably some of the finest produce in the world is found. However, American wine does not begin and end with California, and due to the vast size of the country and the incredible range of terrains and climates found within the United States, there is probably no other country on earth which produces such a massive diversity of wines. From ice wines in the northern states, to sparkling wines, aromatized wines, fortified wines, reds, whites, rosÃ©s and more, the United States has endless surprises in store for lovers of New World wines.
Appellation: Santa Barbara
The beautiful region of Santa Barbara in California is one of the United States' most important wine regions, with a history which stretches back over a hundred years, and which currently has a high reputation for excellence and wines of character and distinction. Many people claim that the county of Santa Barbara is highly similar to that of Provence in France, with its gently sloping hillsides and lush green spaces. The similarity extends to the wines which are produced there, which generally involve big, flavorful and characterful red wines made from classic grape varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon. The dozens of wineries in Santa Barbara benefit enormously from the hot sunshine and cooling Pacific winds, meaning that many different varietals can flourish there and produce a wide array of exceedingly high quality wines.