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 Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris grape varietal is now one of the most widely grown vines in the world, due to the surge in popularity of Pinot Grigio wines over the past twenty years or so. These grayish-blue fruits, which hang in their distinctively conical bunches, are responsible for a very broad range of wines famous for their variety of color tones and flavors Pinot Grigio varietal grapes are highly influenced by terroir, climate and particularly the skill and expertise of the vintners who process them. As such, there are full bodied, amber colored wines made from this grape, and there are equally delicious yet far leaner, paler, lighter bodied and crisp white wines made from the same species in other parts of the world.
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: Napa Valley
There are few places on earth quite as ideal for viticulture and wine production as California's Napa Valley, a place which is now considered something of a spiritual home for the American wine industry. For generations now, Napa Valley has consistently produced the finest wines to come out of the United States, and has used its ideal climate and terroir to coax the very finest flavors and aromas from a wide range of grape varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel, amongst many others. Shielded from the oceanic climate by mountain ranges, the Napa Valley provides plenty of sunshine, heat and little rainfall in which grapes can grow and ripen fully, and express plenty of their superb terroir, much to the delight of New World wine drinkers across the globe.