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.
Zinfandel varietal grapes are an interesting species whose exact origins are unknown. However, they have genetic equivalents in both Croatia and Puglia, where they are still grown, despite most of Zinfandel's vineyards being in the New World. These thin-skinned grapes thrive most healthily in warm climates, where the fairly delicate grapes are not prone to shrivel and dry up on the vine in intense heat. As such, valley regions all over the New World are often full of these dark and tightly bunched grapes which produce a lovely, light to medium bodied wine which varies greatly depending on the terroir it is grown in, and just how warm the climatic conditions over the vines are. Indeed, Zinfandel is renowned for being a grape varietal which can really show off the skill and expertise of the vintners who grow them, as the time of harvesting and the way in which they are processed (as well as the condition of the soil they are grown in) all have a strong effect on the flavor of the wine they produce.
When it comes to New World wine regions, it is widely agreed that many of the finest wines are grown and produced in California. The long stretches of coastline and the valleys and mountainsides which come off them are ideal areas for vine cultivation, and for over a century now, wineries have found a perfect home in the hot, dry state, with many of the wines produced here going on to reach world class status. The state is greatly helped by the brisk oceanic winds which cool the otherwise hot and dry vineyards, which hold mineral rich soils covering vast areas and featuring many established wineries. The state is split into four main regions, the largest by far being the central valley which stretches over three hundred miles in length.
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: Napa Valley
California has long been recognized as a wonderfully rich and fertile location for viticulture, and hundreds of years now, vintners in the United States of America have used the valleys and mountain sides of California for gradually building their own wine culture, based on techniques and practices brought over from the old countries. When it comes to Californian wines of real quality and distinction, however, there is nowhere quite like the Napa Valley, which is now widely considered to be one of the world's premier wine regions, and very much the standard bearer for modern, American wines. With Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel varietal grapes all growing well in Napa Valley, the region produces an impressive range of wines, which have had an enormous impact on the Old and New Worlds, and have changed viticulture forever.