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: Champagne Blend
Whilst Champagne sparkling wines are most commonly made with a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grape varietals, there are actually seven fine grape varietals allowed by French wine law for inclusion in the wines of this region. These include Arbanne, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and and Petit Meslier alongside the others, although these four are being used less and less in the modern age. Champagnes are normally blended wines, although the popularity of single variety 'blanc de blanc' Champagnes made solely with Chardonnay grapes, and 'blanc de noir' wines made only with Pinot Noir varietal grapes are becoming more and more popular. The blending process found in most Champagnes aims to take the finest points of each grape varietal and bring them together to produce spectacular, strong yet balanced results in the bottle.
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
For three hundred years now, the United States has been leading the New World in wine production, both in regards to quantity and quality. Wine is actually produced in all fifty states across the country, with California leading the way by an enormous margin. Indeed, as much as eighty-nine percent of all wines to come out of the United States are produced in California, where the fertile soils and sloping mountain sides, coupled with the long, hot summers provide ideal conditions for producing high quality, European style red, white and rosÃ© wines. With over a million acres of the country under vine, the United States sits comfortably as the fourth largest wine producer in the world, where imported grape varietals from all over the Old World are processed using a successful blend of traditional and contemporary techniques.
Appellation: Napa Valley
When it comes to New World wines, and especially wines from the United States of America, Napa Valley is something of a standard bearer. Over its relatively short history, it has managed to transform itself from being a fairly insignificant region, to becoming one of the most important and highly regarding wine locations on earth. With an ideal climate for viticulture, blazing sunshine and a low level of rainfall, this valley is shielded on many sides by mountain ranges which help it maintain a consistent level of heat, light and moisture throughout the year. Today, Napa Valley is a home of innovation and quality, with dozens of grape varietals thriving in the fertile soils. However, the main varietals grown there have always been Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel, and the wines they produce are constantly lauded by critics and competitions across the globe.