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.
Merlot is one of those grape varietals which produces wines loved by almost everybody. Single variety Merlot wines tend to be balanced, medium bodied and full of rich and juicy fruit flavors wherever they are produced, which is almost in every wine producing country across the globe. Their wide appeal is partly due to the fact that Merlot, unlike other dark blue grape varietals, have a thinner skin carrying a lower tannin content. This allows wineries to produce wines which are packed full of fruit-forward flavors, and yet have a softer, fleshier and more rounded character making them highly drinkable and easy to pair with a wide variety of foods. As one of the 'Bordeaux varieties', Merlot is used in the production of some of the world's finest and most expensive wines, but is reliable enough and of a high enough quality as a grape to produce a wide range of wines affordable for all.
Region: Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Situated in the north of Italy, between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, Friuli-Venezia Giulia is a fascinating and ancient wine region which is only just being discovered by the international wine audiences, keen to uncover more lesser known gems of Italy. Because Friuli-Venezia Giulia is so close to the Austrian and Slovenian borders, the wines there display a distinctly Germanic character, and typically Germanic grape varietals such as Riesling grow extremely well there, and capture much of their stunning alpine terroir. As such, alpine freshness, crystal clear mountain water and beautifully dry and crisp notes are what Friuli-Venezia Giulia's wines are most renowned for, and the Riesling, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, made by small, dedicated and traditional wineries, are considered amongst the finest in the world.
It isn't difficult to understand why Italy is famed not just for the quality of its wines, but also for the vast variety and range of characteristics found in the wines there. The terrain of the country varies wildly, from the lush rolling green hills and valley of Tuscany, to the sun drenched rocky coasts of Sicily, the mountainous and alpine regions of the north, and the marshy lowlands of the east. Italy really does have a little bit of everything. Combine this huge range of landscapes with an almost perfect climate for grape cultivation, and you have a country seemingly designed for viticultural excellence. The results speak for themselves, and it is clear to see that wine has become an inseparable part of Italian culture as a result of its abundance and brilliance. Each village, city and region has a local wine perfectly matched with the cuisine of the area, and not an evening passes without the vast majority of Italian families raising a glass of locally sourced wine with pride and pleasure.