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 dark blue colored fruits and high juice content, Merlot varietal grapes have long been a favorite of wine producers around the globe, with it being found in vineyards across Europe, the Americas and elsewhere in the New World. One of the distinguishing features of Merlot grapes is the fact that they have a relatively low tannin content and an exceptionally soft and fleshy character, meaning they are capable of producing incredibly rounded and mellow wines. This mellowness is balanced with plenty of flavor, however, and has made Merlot grapes the varietal of choice for softening other, more astringent and tannin-heavy wines, often resulting in truly exceptional produce. Merlot is regarded as one of the key 'Bordeaux' varietals for precisely this reason; when combined with the drier Cabernet Sauvignon, it is capable of blending beautifully to produce some of the finest wines available in the world.
Region: Washington State
Since it began in the 1820s, wine-production in Washington state has gone from strength to strength, with many of the finest United States wines coming out over the past twenty years hailing from this region. Today, the state is the second largest US producer of wines, behind California, with over forty thousand acres under vine. The state itself is split into two distinct wine regions, separated by the Cascade Range, which casts an important rain shadow over much of the area. As such, the vast majority of vines are grown and cultivated in the dry, arid desert-like area in the eastern half of the state, with the western half producing less than one percent of the state's wines where it is considerably wetter. Washington state is famed for producing many of the most accessible wines of the country, with Merlot and Chardonnay varietal grapes leading the way, and much experimentation with other varietals characterizing the state's produce in the twenty-first century.
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: Walla Walla
The beautiful wine region of Columbia Valley in Washington State is one of the true gems of the United States' wine industry, full of innovative wineries and dedicated vintners, keen to prove that their terroir is as good as any found elsewhere in the world. Within Columbia Valley, we find the beautiful sub-region of Walla Walla, typified by its gently sloping hills and dry, arid soil. The sub-region of Walla Walla has been building up a powerful reputation for excellence over the past few decades, and many successful vintages in the late 90's prompted the opening of several new wineries within the area, boosting the local industry and increasing competition. The key grape varietals of Walla Walla are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which love the hot climatic conditions and dry, arid soils of the region, and produce magnificently complex and flavorful wines.