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.
There are few white wines in the world with as much of a floral, elegant and summery aroma as those made from the Viognier grape. This fine varietal has been grown in and around the Rhone region of France for centuries, and is believed to have been brought to France by an ancient Roman Emperor, who wished to spread this special grape around his growing empire. Today, wineries in the New World are beginning to experiment with this grape, which is notoriously difficult to grow and highly susceptible to mildew. Vintners must time their harvest just right, as the distinctive fruit-forward and extremely aromatic juices lose much of their character if they are picked too early, or too late. Due to its delicate nature, Viognier wines are often blended, or are allowed to develop noble rot to intensify their characteristics.
California as a wine producing region has grown in size and importance considerably over the past couple of centuries, and today is the proud producer of more than ninety percent of the United States' wines. Indeed, if California was a country, it would be the fourth largest producer of wine in the world, with a vast range of vineyards covering almost half a million acres. The secret to California's success as a wine region has a lot to do with the high quality of its soils, and the fact that it has an extensive Pacific coastline which perfectly tempers the blazing sunshine it experiences all year round. The winds coming off the ocean cool the vines, and the natural valleys and mountainsides which make up most of the state's wine regions make for ideal areas in which to cultivate a variety of high quality grapes.
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: Sonoma Valley
The Valley of the Moon, as Sonoma Valley is widely known, has been one of the United States' most important and widely recognized wine regions for well over a century now, and upholds a firm belief in quality over quantity when it comes to the produce that is made in the dozens of wineries which make up the region. Helped by blazing Californian sunshine alongside mineral rich volcanic soils and geothermal springs, the grape varietals which grow in Sonoma Valley end up being packed full of fascinating flavors and aromas which are then transferred to the bottle. The past decade has seen the region expand more than ever before, and with more favorable weather conditions and a growing reputation for excellence, the wineries of Sonoma Valley are set to continue doing what they do best: making high quality, flavorful and characterful American wines.