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.
It isn't difficult to see how California became one of the world's most important, successful and influential wine regions. Since the first vines were planted in the state by Spanish pioneers in the 18th century, the region has made the most of its ideal climatic conditions, which range from hot, dry and arid to windswept and cool, for vineyard cultivation and wine production. Today, California has almost half a million acres under vine, and hundreds of independent and well established wineries dotted across its vast wine-making areas. Californian wines range from the traditional, and those emulating fine Old World wines, to the experimental and unique, and it is the home to many of the world's most exciting and trailblazing wineries producing excellent bottles for the global market.
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: Napa Valley
There are few places on earth quite as ideal for viticulture and wine production as California's Napa Valley, a place which is now considered something of a spiritual home for the American wine industry. For generations now, Napa Valley has consistently produced the finest wines to come out of the United States, and has used its ideal climate and terroir to coax the very finest flavors and aromas from a wide range of grape varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel, amongst many others. Shielded from the oceanic climate by mountain ranges, the Napa Valley provides plenty of sunshine, heat and little rainfall in which grapes can grow and ripen fully, and express plenty of their superb terroir, much to the delight of New World wine drinkers across the globe.