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: Pinot Gris
The grayish blue fruits of the Pinot Grigio grape varietal are used in the production of a very wide, and seemingly ever widening, range of quality white wines. These grapes pick up much of the features of their terroir, and as such, it isn't unusual to find find Pinot Grigio wines which have something of an alpine character, or hold slightly ashen, smoky flavors soaked up from various soils. They have a naturally high sugar content, which, depending on how they are handled and processed either leads to them producing semi-sweet wines, or drier, more fermented wines, or even wines with a relatively high alcohol content. These grapes prefer cooler climates, and as such are grown in several countries around the world which have strong oceanic breezes or shady valley regions.
Since the 1840s, vineyards have been cultivated and wines have been produced within the beautiful state of Oregon, which is now the United States' third biggest producer of fine wines. Although best known for their Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir wines, which have won several awards in recent years, Oregon is home to a surprisingly large range of fine grape varietals. Chardonnay, Merlot and Riesling also all flourish in the cooler areas of Oregon, and there are plenty of wineries across the state keen to experiment with all sorts of Old World classic varietals, as well as many of the hybrid grapes which characterise the country's wine industry. Oregon is also well known for its organic and biodynamic wine industry, making it a fascinating region for new ideas and new styles of wines, all of which are quickly gaining 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: Willamette Valley
When it comes to high quality United States wine regions, the state of Oregon certainly has its fair share. One of the key wine producing regions of Oregon is Willamette Valley, a beautiful region specializing in the production of carefully constructed and extremely flavorful Pinot Noir wines, which have gained popularity around the world as a result of their deliciously fruity nature and excellent range of characteristics. However, Willamette Valley's wine industry doesn't begin and end with this grape varietal, as wineries within the region are renowned for their love of innovation and experimentation, and are consistently experimenting with a range of fine grapes. As such, a wide array of wines come out of Willamette Valley each year, to an increasingly impressed international wine community.