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: Cabernet Franc
For many centuries now, Cabernet Franc has been a grape varietal deeply associated with high quality wines. It is now grown all over the world, and is generally used as a grape for blending in the production of fine, aged Bordeaux-style wines, generally considered to be amongst the best in the world in regards to flavor and complexity. The vine itself thrives in cooler, valley regions in many countries, and tends to ripen quite early, allowing wineries to make the most of its fantastic range of aromas and distinctive bright, pale red color Cabernet Franc is still often used for single variety wines, and is popular with those looking for a grape varietal which offers unusual aromas, with everything from raspberries to tobacco coming off the glass.
Region: Loire Valley
The Loire Valley in France is home to many of the world's finest examples of white, rosÃ© and sparkling wines, with a wide range of both dry and sweet examples being produced each year to international claim. Whilst Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc make up for much of the vineyards in the region, certain areas of the Loire Valley also produce superb red wines, such as the Cabernet Franc wines from the Chenin sub-region. This variety and level of excellence has long been admired, with the Loire Valley being highly favored in the middle ages by the crowned heads of Europe, and with a wine-making tradition which stretches back to the first century and perhaps beyond. The region has a wonderful continental climate, where hot summers meet oceanic winds, and excellent rich terroir carried by the river that flows through it.
Year in, year out, France enjoys its prestigious reputation as the producer of the finest wines in the world. With a wine making history which spans several thousand years and owes its expertise to the Romans, it comes as little surprise that this most highly esteemed of the Old World wine countries continues to impress and enchant both novices and experts to this day. Despite the rise in quality of wines from neighboring European countries, not to mention the New World, the French wine industry continues to boom, with up to eight billion bottles being produced in recent years. However, France prides itself on always putting quality before quantity, and the wide range in fine produce is a testament to the dedication and knowledge of the wineries across the country. Indeed, from rich and complex reds to light and aromatic white wines, French wines are as varied and interesting as they are enjoyable to drink, making this country a firm favorite for wine lovers across the globe.