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 Sauvignon
Since their conception in 18th century France, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes have flourished across the Old and New Worlds and have changed the way we think about red wine forever. Their sharp and astringent nature has a wonderful ability to mellow and round with age, and when helped by being blended with Merlot and Petit Verdot or Cabernet Franc varietals â€“ as is done in Bordeaux and elsewhere â€“ the results can be truly remarkable. What is most special about Cabernet Sauvignon grapes is the fact that they have a true affinity for oak, and when aged in barrels made of this fragrant wood, the wine which comes out of them a few years later holds an amazing array of flavors and aromas, making Cabernet Sauvignon based wines some of the most memorable in the world. Single variety bottles from the New World made from this grape are also increasing in popularity, as the strong flavors and full-bodied nature of these wines is a great match for many global cuisines.
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
In the United States of America, one wine region seems to stand head and shoulders above all others. The Napa Valley of California has long been considered one of the world's premier wine regions, and the wineries which operate in this idyllic landscape now have generations of expertise when it comes to coaxing the very finest flavors and aromas from the imported varietals which thrive there. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel have become the flagship grape varietals of the Napa Valley, however, recent years have seen much expansion and experimentation undertaken by the large and small wineries which call the valley their home. With ideal climatic conditions for viticulture, and wonderfully rich and fertile soils, the Napa Valley continues to grow and impress each year.