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 Noir
Pinot Noir grapes have been cultivated in and around the Burgundy region of France for centuries, where they have long been favored by vintners for their wide range of flavors, their thin skins and for producing wines which have light, smooth tannins, and a beautiful garnet red color Whilst they remain one of the flagship varietals of this special region, their wide popularity and recent status as a fashionable 'romantic' varietal has led to them being planted in almost every wine producing country in the world. However, the Pinot Noir demands a huge amount of care and attention from the wineries that wish to grow it, as this varietal is particularly susceptible to various forms of mildew and rot. Despite this, the grape is otherwise a favorite with wineries for the fact that it requires little extra effort once it begins fermentation. Pinot Noir is also widely known for producing some of the world's most famous sparkling wines, being one of two key grapes for the production of Champagne, and several other sparkling varieties.
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
Since the 1850s, Sonoma Valley has been recognized as one of the United States' most important and productive wine regions. Any visitor to the region will quickly understand just why Sonoma Valley has had so much success over the past hundred and fifty years, as the region benefits enormously from the wonderfully hot and dry climate it receives, alongside mineral rich soils, geological features such as thermal springs. Furthermore, the region has a rich wine heritage which gives the region a sense of pride and a determination to consistently put quality above quantity, and to make the most of the wide array of red and white wine grape varietals which flourish there. The Valley of the Moon, as it is affectionately named, is now widely understood to be home to many of North America's finest wines, and this is set to continue for many years to come.