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: Red Bordeaux
There are few regions in the world with stricter regulations in regards to wine production and grape varietals than those found in Bordeaux, France. Here, in the home of the world's finest wines, the type and quality of grapes used is of utmost importance, and the legendary wineries which work on the banks of the Gironde river have mastered the careful art of juice blending to find the perfect balance for their produce. Whilst there are six 'official' Bordeaux grapes, the two key varietals for almost every fine Bordeaux wine are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and with good reason. Whilst Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are renowned for their acidity and astringency, strong fruit and spice flavors and full body, Merlot grapes are notably rounded, soft, fleshy and lighter on tannin. The combination of these two varietals, along with a small percentage of (commonly) Petit Verdot or Cabernet Franc, is the perfect balancing act â€“ the two grape varietals cancel out each others weaker points, and accentuate all that is good about the other.
The wineries of Bordeaux in France are widely considered to be amongst the finest on earth, with many of the chateaux found on the Left Bank and in the MÃ©doc region routinely demanding enormous prices and being snapped up by collectors looking to add the best examples of the world's white and red wines to their cellars. Bordeaux's secret to success comes from the fact that the terroir of the region is exceptionally rich in minerals, helped by the clay and gravel soils which typify the area and the Gironde river which runs through it. Normally humid in climate, the nearby Atlantic coast supplies cooling breezes, making Bordeaux a winemaker's dream and resulting in extremely high quality grape varietals. For hundreds of years, the wineries of Bordeaux have been mastering the art of wine blending, and today produce a wide range of wine styles using many of the sixteen grape varietals permitted to grow in the region by French law.
French winemakers are subjected to several laws and regulations regarding the wines they produce, and how they can be labeled and sold. Such procedures are designed to increase the overall quality of the country's produce, and also to ensure that wines made in each particular region or appellation are of a character and type which is representative of the area. Thankfully for consumers of wine world-wide, the French have a particularly high reputation to uphold, and seem to do so flawlessly. Every year, wineries from all over France produce millions upon millions of bottles of fine wine, making the most of their native grape varieties and the excellent terrain which covers most of the country. From the expensive and exquisite red wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, to the white wines and cremants of central France, the French are dedicated to providing the world with wines of the highest quality and most distinctive character.
Appellation: Saint Emilion
Of all of France's wine regions, the one most closely associated with high quality red wines is undoubtedly Bordeaux. Within Bordeaux, there is no other sub-region quite as highly esteemed as Saint Emilion, situated on the hallowed right bank of the Gironde river, and home to many of the world's most famous and dearly loved wine chateaus Saint Emilion is revered for its finely crafted and utterly delicious blended red wines, most commonly made by blending together wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot varietal grapes. The region is one steeped in tradition, and the blending techniques and methods have been handed down through the generations to ensure that the wines which bear the name Saint Emilion remain amongst the best in the world.