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: Sauvignon Blanc
One of the most commonly planted and cultivated white wine grape varietals in the world is the Sauvignon Blanc. This green skinned grape originated in southern France, where it is still grown today and produced into exceptionally high quality wines. However, it is also very much a varietal of the New World, and can be found almost anywhere with the correct climatic conditions for it to thrive in. Generally, Sauvignon Blanc grapes prefer cooler climates, and benefit best from an early harvest. Too much exposure to heat causes the juices inside the fruit to lose much of their character, and results in flat, uninteresting wines devoid of the grapes' usual bite and crispiness. In many countries, Sauvignon Blanc grape juices are aged in barrels, and are allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation, which transforms this dry and refreshing, zesty and fruity white wine into something far mellower, more buttery and refined.
It isn't difficult to see how California became one of the world's most important, successful and influential wine regions. Since the first vines were planted in the state by Spanish pioneers in the 18th century, the region has made the most of its ideal climatic conditions, which range from hot, dry and arid to windswept and cool, for vineyard cultivation and wine production. Today, California has almost half a million acres under vine, and hundreds of independent and well established wineries dotted across its vast wine-making areas. Californian wines range from the traditional, and those emulating fine Old World wines, to the experimental and unique, and it is the home to many of the world's most exciting and trailblazing wineries producing excellent bottles for the global market.
Country: United States
The first European settlers to consider growing grapevines in the United States must have been delighted when they discovered the now famous wine regions within California, Oregon and elsewhere. Not even in the Old World are there such fertile valleys, made ideal for vine cultivation by the blazing sunshine, long, hot summers and oceanic breezes. As such, it comes as little surprise that today more than eighty-nine percent of United States wines are grown in the valleys and on the mountainsides of California, where arguably some of the finest produce in the world is found. However, American wine does not begin and end with California, and due to the vast size of the country and the incredible range of terrains and climates found within the United States, there is probably no other country on earth which produces such a massive diversity of wines. From ice wines in the northern states, to sparkling wines, aromatized wines, fortified wines, reds, whites, rosÃ©s and more, the United States has endless surprises in store for lovers of New World wines.
Appellation: Napa Valley
California has long been recognized as a wonderfully rich and fertile location for viticulture, and hundreds of years now, vintners in the United States of America have used the valleys and mountain sides of California for gradually building their own wine culture, based on techniques and practices brought over from the old countries. When it comes to Californian wines of real quality and distinction, however, there is nowhere quite like the Napa Valley, which is now widely considered to be one of the world's premier wine regions, and very much the standard bearer for modern, American wines. With Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel varietal grapes all growing well in Napa Valley, the region produces an impressive range of wines, which have had an enormous impact on the Old and New Worlds, and have changed viticulture forever.