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.
Veneto has, for hundreds of years, been one of Italy's most important wine regions, and many of the finest wineries and appellations near the Adriatic coast have reached levels of international fame and recognition unmatched by other parts of the country. Amarone, Valpolicella and Bardolino DOC regions are all widely understood to be amongst the best places in the world for flavorful, complex and interesting red wines, and the white Soave wines produced on the foothills of the Alps are enjoyed across the globe for their clarity and crispness. The region benefits from a range of micro-climates, protected from the harsh central European winters by the mountain range, and the generations of expertise and dedication to quality and innovation shown by the hundreds of wineries in the region.
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.