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
Washington state is a fascinating region when it comes to American wine production, with the majority of their produce coming out of the desert-like eastern half of the state. This expansive region has a unique climate produced by the rain shadow of the Cascade mountain range, and here we find over ninety-nine percent of the state's vineyards which hold a wide range of classic grape varietals including Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and others. Today, there are over forty thousand acres in Washington under vine, and the industry of the state is going from strength to strength due to the increasing popularity of the wines which are produced here. Over six hundred wineries in the state take advantage of the well irrigated vineyards which flourish there, and these numbers are expected to grow quickly over the next decade.
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: 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.