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.
Merlot has long been a grape associated with excellent quality of character and flavor, and has spread around the globe as a result of its relative hardiness and reliability. From Chile to Bordeaux, Merlot vines grow to ripeness, and end up producing a remarkably wide variety of wines. Single variety wines made from Merlot grapes tend to be beautifully rich in color, and packed full of jammy, hedgerow flavors and notes of plum and currant, and ideal for newcomers to red wines as a result of their medium body. This medium body comes about due to the fact that the skin of Merlot grapes tends to be quite thin, meaning that the tannin content of Merlot wines is lower than those made from other blue-black grapes. The mellowness and roundedness which results is ideal for blending, also, and Merlot is used as a blending grape in some of the world's finest wineries, to produce aged wines of exceptional character.
Region: Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Up in the north of Italy, between the magnificent Italian Alps and the Adriatic sea, we find the beautiful region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. This special region produces some of Italy's finest and most distinctive white wines, notable for their uniqueness and differences from the white wines found elsewhere in the country. Due to the region's proximity to Slovenia and Austria, it comes as no real surprise to find excellent Riesling and Pinot Bianco grapes growing in the vineyards of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, prized for their ability to capture the finest features of their wonderful alpine terroir. Friuli-Venezia Giulia prides itself on the fact it is characterized by small, independent wineries, dedicated to producing unusual and characterful wines which are the very essence of the cool, mountainous region they work with.
It isn't difficult to understand why Italy is famed not just for the quality of its wines, but also for the vast variety and range of characteristics found in the wines there. The terrain of the country varies wildly, from the lush rolling green hills and valley of Tuscany, to the sun drenched rocky coasts of Sicily, the mountainous and alpine regions of the north, and the marshy lowlands of the east. Italy really does have a little bit of everything. Combine this huge range of landscapes with an almost perfect climate for grape cultivation, and you have a country seemingly designed for viticultural excellence. The results speak for themselves, and it is clear to see that wine has become an inseparable part of Italian culture as a result of its abundance and brilliance. Each village, city and region has a local wine perfectly matched with the cuisine of the area, and not an evening passes without the vast majority of Italian families raising a glass of locally sourced wine with pride and pleasure.