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 is one of the planet's most widely grown and enjoyed grape varietals, and thanks to the popularity of the key wines it is associated with â€“ Burgundy and Champagne â€“ it has successfully spread from its native home in France to much of the wine producing world. Pinot Noir means 'black pine' in French, and this refers to the extremely dark, inky color of the fruit, and the fact that it grows in conical bunches, resembling a large pine cone. It has long been revered for its wide range of refreshing, summery flavors, and the fact that it produces red wines of a beautiful garnet color and light body. More recently, sparkling wines made exclusively with Pinot Noir have been extremely popular, and the orchard notes found in the fizzy 'blanc des noirs' wines mark out just how versatile this grape varietal really is. Despite being notoriously difficult to grow, it isn't hard to see why this grape is now found in vineyards all over the world, as it is synonymous with romance and decadence, quality and fantastic flavor
When it comes to New World wine regions, it is widely agreed that many of the finest wines are grown and produced in California. The long stretches of coastline and the valleys and mountainsides which come off them are ideal areas for vine cultivation, and for over a century now, wineries have found a perfect home in the hot, dry state, with many of the wines produced here going on to reach world class status. The state is greatly helped by the brisk oceanic winds which cool the otherwise hot and dry vineyards, which hold mineral rich soils covering vast areas and featuring many established wineries. The state is split into four main regions, the largest by far being the central valley which stretches over three hundred miles in length.
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.