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: Sauvignon Blanc
One of the most commonly planted and cultivated white wine grape varietals in the world is the Sauvignon Blanc. This green skinned grape originated in southern France, where it is still grown today and produced into exceptionally high quality wines. However, it is also very much a varietal of the New World, and can be found almost anywhere with the correct climatic conditions for it to thrive in. Generally, Sauvignon Blanc grapes prefer cooler climates, and benefit best from an early harvest. Too much exposure to heat causes the juices inside the fruit to lose much of their character, and results in flat, uninteresting wines devoid of the grapes' usual bite and crispiness. In many countries, Sauvignon Blanc grape juices are aged in barrels, and are allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation, which transforms this dry and refreshing, zesty and fruity white wine into something far mellower, more buttery and refined.
California has long been the New World's most important and prodigious wine producing regions, with a history which stretches back to the 18th century and the Spanish pioneers who settled here. Today, California produces vast quantities of wine, and if it were a country, it would be the fourth largest producer of wine on earth. Despite experiencing many problems in the mid 20th century, including a very serious blight which almost crippled the state's wine industry, the ideal terroir and excellent climate ensured that Californian wines soon became the envy of the New World once again. California produces a vast range of wines, and utilizes a long list of fine grape varietals, with many wineries and their produce more closely resembling those of France and other Old World countries in regards to character, practices and flavors
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 home to many of California's most sought after wines, with a powerful reputation for superbly crafted, old world style big, flavorful and complex red wines. The white wine industry in the region is growing, too, with many wineries within Santa Barbara successfully experimenting with several classic white wine grape varietals. As in much of California, Santa Barbara benefits from the blazing west coast sunshine, coupled with cooling Pacific Ocean breezes and fogs, which help to temper the grapes and slow the ripening process, thus ensuring more flavor and aroma in the resulting wines. Although Santa Barbara is a relatively young wine region, it is home to many wineries who are extremely dedicated when it comes to demonstrating just how good their terroir is, and how characterful their region's wines can be.