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
Regularly described as being the grape varietal responsible for producing the world's most romantic wines, Pinot Noir has long been associated with elegance and a broad range of flavors The name means 'black pine' in French, and this is due to the fact that the fruit of this particular varietal is especially dark in color, and hangs in a conical shape, like that of a pine cone. Despite being grown today in almost every wine producing country, Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult grape variety to cultivate. This is because it is especially susceptible to various forms of mold and mildew, and thrives best in steady, cooler climates. However, the quality of the fruit has ensured that wineries and vintners have persevered with the varietal, and new technologies and methods have overcome many of the problems it presents. Alongside this, the wide popularity and enthusiasm for this grape has ensured it will remain a firm favorite amongst wine drinkers for many years to come.
Whilst the Oregon wine industry didn't really take off until the 1960s, it actually has a wine-making history which stretches back to the pioneer days, with the first successful vineyards being cultivated back in the early 19th century. Today, Oregon is the United States' third biggest wine producing state, with over three hundred wineries operating there and making the most of the cooler climatic conditions which characterise much of the region, and have proved ideal for the growing of a range of fine grape varietals. The state is best known for their Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir wines, but also produces excellent Chardonnay, Merlot and Riesling grapes. The valleys and mountainsides of Oregon are also excellent for producing Old World classic varietals alongside American hybrid grapes, and the state has become renowned as a trailblazer in the field of organic, vegan and biodynamic wines.
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.