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: Pinot Gris
The rise in popularity of Pinot Grigio (also known as Pinot Gris) wines over the past decade has led to this particular grape varietal being planted in many countries around the world in enormous quantities. These grapes range in color from grayish blue to lilac and amber, and with many shades in between. However, they are most prized for their wide range of flavors and aromas, and their relatively high level of 'transparency', or the ability to put across elements of their terroir in the bottle. The Pinot Grigio varietal also has a relatively high natural sugar content, which means that wineries have plenty of scope when it comes to processing their juices, resulting in semi-sweet Pinot Grigio wines, or very lean, crisp and dry examples depending on how much fermentation has been allowed.
Since the 1840s, vineyards have been cultivated and wines have been produced within the beautiful state of Oregon, which is now the United States' third biggest producer of fine wines. Although best known for their Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir wines, which have won several awards in recent years, Oregon is home to a surprisingly large range of fine grape varietals. Chardonnay, Merlot and Riesling also all flourish in the cooler areas of Oregon, and there are plenty of wineries across the state keen to experiment with all sorts of Old World classic varietals, as well as many of the hybrid grapes which characterise the country's wine industry. Oregon is also well known for its organic and biodynamic wine industry, making it a fascinating region for new ideas and new styles of wines, all of which are quickly gaining popularity around the world.
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: Willamette Valley
The beautiful state of Oregon is home to many productive and important wine producing regions, and one of the most important and widely renowned is Willamette Valley, a lush and fertile region internationally famed for its high quality, flavorful and characterful Pinot Noir wines. Willamette Valley is an ideal location for the Pinot Noir grape, as the long, hot summers and balmy ripening seasons allow the grapes to reach full ripeness, and express their deliciously luxurious flavors and aromas. However, plenty of other grape varietals also thrive in Willamette Valley, and the region is renowned for its dedication to quality, experimentation and innovation, with many wineries increasingly keen to expand their portfolios and show the world just how good and varied the Oregon wine scene can be.