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.
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
The first European settlers to consider growing grapevines in the United States must have been delighted when they discovered the now famous wine regions within California, Oregon and elsewhere. Not even in the Old World are there such fertile valleys, made ideal for vine cultivation by the blazing sunshine, long, hot summers and oceanic breezes. As such, it comes as little surprise that today more than eighty-nine percent of United States wines are grown in the valleys and on the mountainsides of California, where arguably some of the finest produce in the world is found. However, American wine does not begin and end with California, and due to the vast size of the country and the incredible range of terrains and climates found within the United States, there is probably no other country on earth which produces such a massive diversity of wines. From ice wines in the northern states, to sparkling wines, aromatized wines, fortified wines, reds, whites, rosÃ©s and more, the United States has endless surprises in store for lovers of New World wines.