2011 Wines: Elegance Trumps Opulence

A new year is here, and most of California’s 2011 vintage wines have been resting in oak barrels or stainless steel tanks for more than two months.

What can we expect from the 2011 vintage in the Golden State?

For one thing, less wine. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (http://www.cdfa.ca.gov), the winegrape crop was down about 9 percent, in terms of weight, compared to 2010.

All told, about 3.3 million tons of grapes were picked and transported to wineries. Compared to the 2009 harvest, when 3.7 million tons were brought in, the 2011 crop could be considered to have been in “free-fall.”

Don’t worry, though. There still will be plenty of wine to go around. But it’s going to be different, stylistically, than in recent years.

And the reason for that can be traced back to last spring and summer. Generally speaking, the spring in California wine country was quite wet. And during the summer, it was quite temperate, which served to slow the ripening process.

Ultimately, in many areas, the grapes were brought in with lower sugar levels than “normal,” and that’s likely to equate with wines that are less “in your face” and more elegant.

Rather than fruit-forward “monsters” that have defined California wines in recent years, look for the 2011 vintage to offer lower alcohol levels, more subtle flavors and a style that is extremely food-friendly.

Winemakers can perform various “tricks” in the cellar to promote certain stylistic preferences but, ultimately, Mother Nature is in control. And in 2011, she has chosen elegance over opulence.

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What style of wine do you prefer? Elegant or opulent? Dry or sweet? Red or white… or pink? Everyone has a different palate, and we’d love to hear about yours in the Comments box below.

Posted in Editor's Journal
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