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
Of all the New World wine countries, perhaps the one which has demonstrated the most flair for producing high quality wines - using a combination of traditional and forward-thinking contemporary methods - has been the United States of America. For the past couple of centuries, the United States has set about transforming much of its suitable land into vast vineyards, capable of supporting a wide variety of world-class grape varietals which thrive on both the Atlantic and the Pacific coastlines. Of course, we immediately think of sun-drenched California in regards to American wines, with its enormous vineyards responsible for the New World's finest examples of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot based wines, but many other states have taken to viticulture in a big way, with impressive results. Oregon, Washington State and New York have all developed sophisticated and technologically advanced wine cultures of their own, and the output of U.S wineries is increasing each year as more and more people are converted to their produce.
Appellation: Sonoma Valley
Since the 1850s, Sonoma Valley has been recognized as one of the United States' most important and productive wine regions. Any visitor to the region will quickly understand just why Sonoma Valley has had so much success over the past hundred and fifty years, as the region benefits enormously from the wonderfully hot and dry climate it receives, alongside mineral rich soils, geological features such as thermal springs. Furthermore, the region has a rich wine heritage which gives the region a sense of pride and a determination to consistently put quality above quantity, and to make the most of the wide array of red and white wine grape varietals which flourish there. The Valley of the Moon, as it is affectionately named, is now widely understood to be home to many of North America's finest wines, and this is set to continue for many years to come.