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
For many centuries now, Cabernet Franc has been a grape varietal deeply associated with high quality wines. It is now grown all over the world, and is generally used as a grape for blending in the production of fine, aged Bordeaux-style wines, generally considered to be amongst the best in the world in regards to flavor and complexity. The vine itself thrives in cooler, valley regions in many countries, and tends to ripen quite early, allowing wineries to make the most of its fantastic range of aromas and distinctive bright, pale red color Cabernet Franc is still often used for single variety wines, and is popular with those looking for a grape varietal which offers unusual aromas, with everything from raspberries to tobacco coming off the glass.
Region: Washington State
Washington state currently holds host to over six hundred wineries, each producing wines using the many classic grape varietals which flourish in the arid, dry region to the east of the Cascade mountains. Since the Washington wine industry began in the beginning of the 19th century, great efforts have been made to irrigate the semi-desert which makes up much of the state, and the results have been enormously successful in regards to creating an environment in which a wide range of grapevines can flourish. There are certain fine wineries in the wetter western region of Washington, although these make up less than one percent of the region's overall wine production levels. Recent decades have seen red wines becoming increasingly popular in the United States, and many of those produced in Washington are considered to be amongst the country's finest produce.
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: Walla Walla
The beautiful sub-region of Walla Walla sits within the vast Washington State wine region of Columbia Valley, in the dry and arid, gently sloping lowlands which typify the area. The region has been building up a powerful reputation over the past few decades, and dozens of wineries have opened within the sub-region of Walla Walla over the past twenty years, helping it establish itself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of United States wines. Walla Walla is internationally renowned for the high quality of its Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varietal wines, made from imported French grape varietals which adore the dry and arid soils which are found within the region. However, many grape varietals thrive within Walla Walla, and wineries are now expanding their portfolios and creating a wide array of wines.