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.
Today, Merlot is generally believed to be one of the most popular and widely planted grape varietals in the world, with expert estimates putting it just behind Cabernet Sauvignon in the top three most planted vines. Ask any winery anywhere between France and Argentina, and they'll tell you it is due to the grapes reliability, fantastic range of flavors and unique properties. Single variety Merlot wines are especially popular with companies wishing to target newcomers to the world of red wine, due to the fact that as Merlot has a low tannin content, and relatively little malic acid, the wines it produces are fleshy, well rounded and firmly in the 'medium body' category. This essentially means that they are extremely drinkable, full of lovely jammy fruit flavors and rich, pleasing aromas. That isn't to say that Merlot is only for beginners, though, as this grape is also one of the key varietals for producing some of the most highly respected, complex and perfectly balanced wines in the world.
When it comes to New World wine regions, it is widely agreed that many of the finest wines are grown and produced in California. The long stretches of coastline and the valleys and mountainsides which come off them are ideal areas for vine cultivation, and for over a century now, wineries have found a perfect home in the hot, dry state, with many of the wines produced here going on to reach world class status. The state is greatly helped by the brisk oceanic winds which cool the otherwise hot and dry vineyards, which hold mineral rich soils covering vast areas and featuring many established wineries. The state is split into four main regions, the largest by far being the central valley which stretches over three hundred miles in length.
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: Sonoma Valley
Often referred to as the 'birthplace of Californian wines', the beautiful and expansive Sonoma Valley has long been seen as something of a vibrant and beating heart within the American wine industry. The 'valley of the moon', as it is affectionately known, benefits enormously from the blazing Californian sunshine it receives throughout the long, hot and dry summers, and exceptionally warm autumns in which the vast array of grape varietals found there ripen. Sonoma Valley is most famous for big, full-bodied and flavorful red wine grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as many excellent white wine grapes. Due to the volcanic soils of the region, fed by thermal springs packed full of minerals, the soil is wonderfully fertile and capable of supporting a wide variety of grape species.