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 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
Washington State is a fascinating wine region, and one which typifies the kind of quality and innovation currently found in the United States' wine scene, with widespread utilization of modern and traditional wine making methods, resulting in magnificent wines of character and distinction. Within Washington State, we find the beautiful sub-region of Walla Walla, a relatively small area typified by rolling hillsides and arid, dry soils. Walla Walla benefits enormously from the hot and dry climate it receives, which allows the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varietal grapes which grow there to reach full ripeness each year, and express all of their wonderful flavors and aromas. Due to a very successful few decades, the number of wineries in Walla Walla has increased rapidly, meaning that more and more different and quality wines are now coming out of this unique and fascinating place.