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.
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.