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
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 wine region of Columbia Valley in Washington State is one of the true gems of the United States' wine industry, full of innovative wineries and dedicated vintners, keen to prove that their terroir is as good as any found elsewhere in the world. Within Columbia Valley, we find the beautiful sub-region of Walla Walla, typified by its gently sloping hills and dry, arid soil. The sub-region of Walla Walla has been building up a powerful reputation for excellence over the past few decades, and many successful vintages in the late 90's prompted the opening of several new wineries within the area, boosting the local industry and increasing competition. The key grape varietals of Walla Walla are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which love the hot climatic conditions and dry, arid soils of the region, and produce magnificently complex and flavorful wines.