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.
With its dark blue colored fruits and high juice content, Merlot varietal grapes have long been a favorite of wine producers around the globe, with it being found in vineyards across Europe, the Americas and elsewhere in the New World. One of the distinguishing features of Merlot grapes is the fact that they have a relatively low tannin content and an exceptionally soft and fleshy character, meaning they are capable of producing incredibly rounded and mellow wines. This mellowness is balanced with plenty of flavor, however, and has made Merlot grapes the varietal of choice for softening other, more astringent and tannin-heavy wines, often resulting in truly exceptional produce. Merlot is regarded as one of the key 'Bordeaux' varietals for precisely this reason; when combined with the drier Cabernet Sauvignon, it is capable of blending beautifully to produce some of the finest wines available in the world.
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
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: Napa Valley
When it comes to New World wines, and especially wines from the United States of America, Napa Valley is something of a standard bearer. Over its relatively short history, it has managed to transform itself from being a fairly insignificant region, to becoming one of the most important and highly regarding wine locations on earth. With an ideal climate for viticulture, blazing sunshine and a low level of rainfall, this valley is shielded on many sides by mountain ranges which help it maintain a consistent level of heat, light and moisture throughout the year. Today, Napa Valley is a home of innovation and quality, with dozens of grape varietals thriving in the fertile soils. However, the main varietals grown there have always been Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel, and the wines they produce are constantly lauded by critics and competitions across the globe.