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.
The precise origins of what became known as the Zinfandel grape variety are uncertain, although it has clear genetic equivalents in both Puglia and Croatia. However, when it was brought to the New World in the mid 19th century, it became known as the Zinfandel, and has been consistently popular and widely grown ever since. These very dark and very round grapes have a remarkably high sugar content, resulting in relatively high levels of alcohol in the wines they are made into, with bottles often displaying as much as fifteen percent. What makes the Zinfandel such an interesting grape, though, is the fact that the flavors produced by this varietal vary considerably depending on the climate they are grown in. In cooler valley regions, the Zinfandel grapes result in wines which hold strong flavors of tart and sweet fruits; raspberry, redcurrant and sweet cherry, held in a very smooth and silky liquid. Conversely, warmer regions result in more complex and spicy notes, including anise, pepper and hedgerow berries.
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
The mid-nineteenth century was a hugely important era for the United States wine industry, and it was in this period when Sonoma Valley was first used as a wine region. The earliest wineries which made the wide and flat valley floor their home recognized the potential the region had, and noted the fantastic climate Sonoma Valley received. Alongside this, they understood the importance of the mineral rich volcanic soils and geothermal springs of the region, which would go on to provide nutrition for millions of grape vines over the next century and a half. Today, Sonoma Valley is one of California's premier wine producing regions, and it is widely agreed that many of the state's finest red and white wines hail from this beautiful area.