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 has long been a grape associated with excellent quality of character and flavor, and has spread around the globe as a result of its relative hardiness and reliability. From Chile to Bordeaux, Merlot vines grow to ripeness, and end up producing a remarkably wide variety of wines. Single variety wines made from Merlot grapes tend to be beautifully rich in color, and packed full of jammy, hedgerow flavors and notes of plum and currant, and ideal for newcomers to red wines as a result of their medium body. This medium body comes about due to the fact that the skin of Merlot grapes tends to be quite thin, meaning that the tannin content of Merlot wines is lower than those made from other blue-black grapes. The mellowness and roundedness which results is ideal for blending, also, and Merlot is used as a blending grape in some of the world's finest wineries, to produce aged wines of exceptional character.
Tuscany has been producing fine wines for almost three thousand years, and as such is widely recognized as being one of the key Old World wine regions which have shaped the way we understand and enjoy quality wines throughout history. Interestingly, the region is typified by a unique soil type which is not particularly good for growing grapevines, but in Tuscany, the emphasis has always been on quality over quantity, and low yields with high levels of flavor and intensity are preferred, and have become a feature of the region's wine industry. The main grape varietals grown in Tuscany are Sangiovese for the distinctive, flavorful and complex red wines, and Vernaccia for the exquisite dry white wines, although the last couple of decades have seen more varietals grown and an increasing trend towards 'Bordeaux style' wines.
There are few countries in the world with a viticultural history as long or as illustrious as that claimed by Italy. Grapes were first being grown and cultivated on Italian soil several thousand years ago by the Greeks and the Pheonicians, who named Italy 'Oenotria' â€“ the land of wines â€“ so impressed were they with the climate and the suitability of the soil for wine production. Of course, it was the rise of the Roman Empire which had the most lasting influence on wine production in Italy, and their influence can still be felt today, as much of the riches of the empire came about through their enthusiasm for producing wines and exporting it to neighbouring countries. Since those times, a vast amount of Italian land has remained primarily for vine cultivation, and thousands of wineries can be found throughout the entire length and breadth of this beautiful country, drenched in Mediterranean sunshine and benefiting from the excellent fertile soils found there. Italy remains very much a 'land of wines', and one could not imagine this country, its landscape and culture, without it.