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
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
Santa Barbara is often overlooked as a wine region, however, the quality of the producing coming out of this coastal county cannot be ignored â€“ many of the best New World red wines hail from Santa Barbara, and the wineries of the region are consistently impressing with their flair for experimentation. For over a hundred years, Santa Barbara has been using the blazing Californian sunshine and cooling Pacific Ocean breezes to produce classic French grape varietals of stunning quality and distinction, leading many people to refer to the county as the 'Californian Provence'. Indeed, the terroir of Santa Barbara is not so dissimilar to that of many great French wine regions, and this may go some way to explain why the red and white wines which are produced there pack in so many interesting and enticing features.