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 is not simply an important grape varietal for the fact that it is one of the most widely grown strains of vine in the world, but also because it is a vital grape in the production of many of the finest wines the world has ever seen. For centuries in its native France, it has been a varietal synonymous with elegance and high quality, and has become a key fruit in the production of the Bordeaux and Bordeaux-style blended wines which have gone down in history thanks to their magnificent flavors, aromas and levels of aged complexity. However, Cabernet Franc is also a wine grape varietal for use in single variety, unblended wines, and has plenty to offer on its own. Most commonly, it is renowned for its wide bouquet, which often includes fascinating notes of tobacco, violets or bell pepper over a beautifully pale and decadent liquid.
Region: Washington State
Washington is the second largest wine producing region in the United States, after California, with over forty thousand acres currently under vine, and over six hundred wineries currently operating there. Since the first wineries were established there in 1825, Washington has produced a wide range of wines, made mostly with classic Old World grape varietals. Indeed, their Merlot and Chardonnay wines were immensely popular over the past few decades, and helped establish this state as a serious producer in regards to New World fine wines. The dry and arid eastern side of the country is heavily irrigated, and holds over ninety-nine percent of the state's wineries, each producing the state's characteristic bright, fruit-forward red wines and dry, crisp acidic white wines, both of which are increasing in popularity around the world.
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 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.