One of the most widely grown and easily recognized wine grape varietals in the world is the Muscat, an ancient grape with an exceptional amount of versatility. For centuries, Muscat varietal grapes have been used all over Europe for the production of wonderfully fruity wines of many different shades and colors, which, with their strong 'grapey' flavor have come to be known as a quintessential fine wine grape. Their relatively high acidity also means they are ideal for the production of sparkling wines, and the fizzy Muscat wines of Italy are widely agreed to be amongst the best in the world. In more recent years, New World countries have shown a huge amount of flair when it comes to the Muscat grape, and have had plenty of success in allowing its natural and vibrant character to come through in the bottle. 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.