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 Franc
Cabernet Franc varietal grapes are a key ingredient in many of the finest wines in the world. For centuries they have been used in their native France for balancing out and adding their unique flavor and aroma to the finest wines of the Bordeaux region, and in more recent decades, they have been used all over the New World in attempts to emulate this most illustrious of wine styles. Alone, Cabernet Franc is an exciting, rich and elegant wine grape, producing wines packed full of interesting and highly aromatic characteristics. Violets, tobacco, bell pepper, blackcurrant and several other notes are regularly found within wines made from this grape, and the rich, pale garnet red color they offer makes them a favorite for both vintners and wine drinkers around the world.
Region: Washington State
Since it began in the 1820s, wine-production in Washington state has gone from strength to strength, with many of the finest United States wines coming out over the past twenty years hailing from this region. Today, the state is the second largest US producer of wines, behind California, with over forty thousand acres under vine. The state itself is split into two distinct wine regions, separated by the Cascade Range, which casts an important rain shadow over much of the area. As such, the vast majority of vines are grown and cultivated in the dry, arid desert-like area in the eastern half of the state, with the western half producing less than one percent of the state's wines where it is considerably wetter. Washington state is famed for producing many of the most accessible wines of the country, with Merlot and Chardonnay varietal grapes leading the way, and much experimentation with other varietals characterizing the state's produce in the twenty-first century.
Country: United States
Of all the New World wine countries, perhaps the one which has demonstrated the most flair for producing high quality wines - using a combination of traditional and forward-thinking contemporary methods - has been the United States of America. For the past couple of centuries, the United States has set about transforming much of its suitable land into vast vineyards, capable of supporting a wide variety of world-class grape varietals which thrive on both the Atlantic and the Pacific coastlines. Of course, we immediately think of sun-drenched California in regards to American wines, with its enormous vineyards responsible for the New World's finest examples of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot based wines, but many other states have taken to viticulture in a big way, with impressive results. Oregon, Washington State and New York have all developed sophisticated and technologically advanced wine cultures of their own, and the output of U.S wineries is increasing each year as more and more people are converted to their produce.
Appellation: Walla Walla
The sub-region of Walla Walla in Washington State is widely regarded as being home to many of the best wines to come out of the United States in recent years. The sub-region itself is most renowned for the high quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines it produces, as these grapes are particularly well suited to the dry and arid soils and hot climate the region enjoys. Walla Walla is also renowned for the innovative approach many of its wineries have to the wine making process, and forward-thinking farming methods involving organic principles, sustainability, and biodynamics are relatively commonplace there, resulting in a fascinating range of wines which capture the spirit of modern America. The area is currently expanding fast, due to recent successful vintages, and more and more wineries open in Walla Walla each year to join in the sub-region's dedication to quality.