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 is the second largest wine producing region in the United States, after California, with over forty thousand acres currently under vine, and over six hundred wineries currently operating there. Since the first wineries were established there in 1825, Washington has produced a wide range of wines, made mostly with classic Old World grape varietals. Indeed, their Merlot and Chardonnay wines were immensely popular over the past few decades, and helped establish this state as a serious producer in regards to New World fine wines. The dry and arid eastern side of the country is heavily irrigated, and holds over ninety-nine percent of the state's wineries, each producing the state's characteristic bright, fruit-forward red wines and dry, crisp acidic white wines, both of which are increasing in popularity around the world.
Country: United States
The first European settlers to consider growing grapevines in the United States must have been delighted when they discovered the now famous wine regions within California, Oregon and elsewhere. Not even in the Old World are there such fertile valleys, made ideal for vine cultivation by the blazing sunshine, long, hot summers and oceanic breezes. As such, it comes as little surprise that today more than eighty-nine percent of United States wines are grown in the valleys and on the mountainsides of California, where arguably some of the finest produce in the world is found. However, American wine does not begin and end with California, and due to the vast size of the country and the incredible range of terrains and climates found within the United States, there is probably no other country on earth which produces such a massive diversity of wines. From ice wines in the northern states, to sparkling wines, aromatized wines, fortified wines, reds, whites, rosÃ©s and more, the United States has endless surprises in store for lovers of New World wines.
Appellation: Walla Walla
The sub-region of Walla Walla in Washington State is widely regarded as being home to many of the best wines to come out of the United States in recent years. The sub-region itself is most renowned for the high quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines it produces, as these grapes are particularly well suited to the dry and arid soils and hot climate the region enjoys. Walla Walla is also renowned for the innovative approach many of its wineries have to the wine making process, and forward-thinking farming methods involving organic principles, sustainability, and biodynamics are relatively commonplace there, resulting in a fascinating range of wines which capture the spirit of modern America. The area is currently expanding fast, due to recent successful vintages, and more and more wineries open in Walla Walla each year to join in the sub-region's dedication to quality.