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.
There continues to be much debate surrounding the name of the Shiraz/Syrah grape varietal, with many experts still quite unsure which came first. Indeed, even the origins of this varietal are more or less unknown, despite it being most commonly associated with the Rhone Valley of France, and New World countries, most notably Australia. However, its popularity and unique characteristics have seen it planted all over the world, where it continues to impress with its powerful flavors and wonderfully spicy notes of pepper and clove. Shiraz/Syrah wines are renowned also for their versatility, and are regularly used in single variety still and sparkling wines, as well as blended and oak aged wines which demonstrate its ability to express its terroir and secondary flavors very well.
Region: Washington State
Washington state is a fascinating region when it comes to American wine production, with the majority of their produce coming out of the desert-like eastern half of the state. This expansive region has a unique climate produced by the rain shadow of the Cascade mountain range, and here we find over ninety-nine percent of the state's vineyards which hold a wide range of classic grape varietals including Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and others. Today, there are over forty thousand acres in Washington under vine, and the industry of the state is going from strength to strength due to the increasing popularity of the wines which are produced here. Over six hundred wineries in the state take advantage of the well irrigated vineyards which flourish there, and these numbers are expected to grow quickly over the next decade.
Country: United States
Of all the New World wine countries, perhaps the one which has demonstrated the most flair for producing high quality wines - using a combination of traditional and forward-thinking contemporary methods - has been the United States of America. For the past couple of centuries, the United States has set about transforming much of its suitable land into vast vineyards, capable of supporting a wide variety of world-class grape varietals which thrive on both the Atlantic and the Pacific coastlines. Of course, we immediately think of sun-drenched California in regards to American wines, with its enormous vineyards responsible for the New World's finest examples of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot based wines, but many other states have taken to viticulture in a big way, with impressive results. Oregon, Washington State and New York have all developed sophisticated and technologically advanced wine cultures of their own, and the output of U.S wineries is increasing each year as more and more people are converted to their produce.
Appellation: Walla Walla
Washington State's Columbia Valley is one of the United States' largest and most productive wine regions, and within the Valley itself we find the beautiful sub-region of Walla Walla, home to many of the country's finest red wines. The sub-region is a relatively small one, and a relatively young one, having only been producing wines for a century or so. However, the quality of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines to come out of Walla Walla has caught the attention of the global wine drinking community in recent years, and this has prompted expansion and overall improvement within Walla Walla, resulting in some truly spectacular wines which are the very essence of the region. Walla Walla benefits hugely from the hot weather and arid soils which typify the region, and which help the fine grape varietals which thrive there reach full ripeness each year.