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 versatility and depth of fantastic fruity flavor, Merlot is one of the key grape varietals which has truly conquered the world of wines. Grown all over Europe, the Americas and elsewhere, Merlot grapes are distinguishable by their beautiful blue color and loose hanging bunches. They are a favorite with wineries due to their light tannin content and low levels of malic acid, meaning that Merlot wines are extremely drinkable and carry a depth of flavors which is at once fleshy and full, without being overpowering or challenging for the drinker. Merlots are often used for blending, as their roundedness and mellow nature is a perfect way to balance out more astringent varietals, leading to fuller, more complex and silky quality wines. Indeed, many of the finest wineries in the world in esteemed locations across countries such as France and Italy are famed for their habit of using ripened Merlot grapes to their full potential.
California has long been the New World's most important and prodigious wine producing regions, with a history which stretches back to the 18th century and the Spanish pioneers who settled here. Today, California produces vast quantities of wine, and if it were a country, it would be the fourth largest producer of wine on earth. Despite experiencing many problems in the mid 20th century, including a very serious blight which almost crippled the state's wine industry, the ideal terroir and excellent climate ensured that Californian wines soon became the envy of the New World once again. California produces a vast range of wines, and utilizes a long list of fine grape varietals, with many wineries and their produce more closely resembling those of France and other Old World countries in regards to character, practices and flavors
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
In the United States of America, one wine region seems to stand head and shoulders above all others. The Napa Valley of California has long been considered one of the world's premier wine regions, and the wineries which operate in this idyllic landscape now have generations of expertise when it comes to coaxing the very finest flavors and aromas from the imported varietals which thrive there. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel have become the flagship grape varietals of the Napa Valley, however, recent years have seen much expansion and experimentation undertaken by the large and small wineries which call the valley their home. With ideal climatic conditions for viticulture, and wonderfully rich and fertile soils, the Napa Valley continues to grow and impress each year.