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.
Today, Merlot is generally believed to be one of the most popular and widely planted grape varietals in the world, with expert estimates putting it just behind Cabernet Sauvignon in the top three most planted vines. Ask any winery anywhere between France and Argentina, and they'll tell you it is due to the grapes reliability, fantastic range of flavors and unique properties. Single variety Merlot wines are especially popular with companies wishing to target newcomers to the world of red wine, due to the fact that as Merlot has a low tannin content, and relatively little malic acid, the wines it produces are fleshy, well rounded and firmly in the 'medium body' category. This essentially means that they are extremely drinkable, full of lovely jammy fruit flavors and rich, pleasing aromas. That isn't to say that Merlot is only for beginners, though, as this grape is also one of the key varietals for producing some of the most highly respected, complex and perfectly balanced wines 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
Washington State is a fascinating wine region, and one which typifies the kind of quality and innovation currently found in the United States' wine scene, with widespread utilization of modern and traditional wine making methods, resulting in magnificent wines of character and distinction. Within Washington State, we find the beautiful sub-region of Walla Walla, a relatively small area typified by rolling hillsides and arid, dry soils. Walla Walla benefits enormously from the hot and dry climate it receives, which allows the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varietal grapes which grow there to reach full ripeness each year, and express all of their wonderful flavors and aromas. Due to a very successful few decades, the number of wineries in Walla Walla has increased rapidly, meaning that more and more different and quality wines are now coming out of this unique and fascinating place.