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: Sauvignon Blanc
One of the most commonly planted and cultivated white wine grape varietals in the world is the Sauvignon Blanc. This green skinned grape originated in southern France, where it is still grown today and produced into exceptionally high quality wines. However, it is also very much a varietal of the New World, and can be found almost anywhere with the correct climatic conditions for it to thrive in. Generally, Sauvignon Blanc grapes prefer cooler climates, and benefit best from an early harvest. Too much exposure to heat causes the juices inside the fruit to lose much of their character, and results in flat, uninteresting wines devoid of the grapes' usual bite and crispiness. In many countries, Sauvignon Blanc grape juices are aged in barrels, and are allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation, which transforms this dry and refreshing, zesty and fruity white wine into something far mellower, more buttery and refined.
Since the 18th century, California has been a hugely important and influential wine region, acting as a trailblazer for other New World wine regions and utilizing an important blend of traditional and contemporary practices, methods and techniques relating to their wine production. Split into four key areas â€“ the North Coast, the Central Coast, the South Coast and the Central Valley â€“ Californian wineries make the most of their ideal climate and rich variety of terrains in order to produce a fascinating range of wines made with a long list of different fine grape varietals. Today, the state has almost half a million acres under vine, and is one of the world's largest wine exporters, with Californian wines being drunk and enjoyed all across the globe.
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: Napa Valley
There are few places on earth quite as ideal for viticulture and wine production as California's Napa Valley, a place which is now considered something of a spiritual home for the American wine industry. For generations now, Napa Valley has consistently produced the finest wines to come out of the United States, and has used its ideal climate and terroir to coax the very finest flavors and aromas from a wide range of grape varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel, amongst many others. Shielded from the oceanic climate by mountain ranges, the Napa Valley provides plenty of sunshine, heat and little rainfall in which grapes can grow and ripen fully, and express plenty of their superb terroir, much to the delight of New World wine drinkers across the globe.