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.
Carignan is a blue-skinned grape thought to have originally been grown in Spain, but which is now more commonly associated with southern France and various other countries, including Algeria and the island of Sardinia. They used to be blended with other Spanish varietals for the production of Rioja wines, although their inclusion today is rare. An ancient grape varietal, Carignan is often seen as quite a challenge for wineries to grow. Not only does it have an extremely sensitive nature, and is often highly susceptible to rot, but the grapes themselves have a high natural acid and tannin content, which can often be too astringent for modern tastes. However, given the correct care and treatment, Carignan grapes can produce wonderful single variety and blended wines, packed full of interesting characteristics and flavors which are fascinating to explore.
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: Central Coast
When it comes to New World wines, there are few regions quite as impressive or important as California. Running down the Pacific coast of the state, we find the long and narrow Central Coast region, a huge stretch of land which covers over two hundred and fifty miles, and features of 90,000 acres of vineyards, owned by dozens of wineries. The wineries of Central Coast are keen to show the world just how good their terroir can be for viticulture, and with the help of plenty of modern techniques and state of the art wine-making methods, they are busily making superb wines from the French and Italian grapes which thrive there. By far the most important grapes of the region are the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varietals which flourish under the hot sunshine, but dozens of varietals grow very well in Central Coast, making this a varied and fascinating region to explore.