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 versatility and depth of fantastic fruity flavor, Merlot is one of the key grape varietals which has truly conquered the world of wines. Grown all over Europe, the Americas and elsewhere, Merlot grapes are distinguishable by their beautiful blue color and loose hanging bunches. They are a favorite with wineries due to their light tannin content and low levels of malic acid, meaning that Merlot wines are extremely drinkable and carry a depth of flavors which is at once fleshy and full, without being overpowering or challenging for the drinker. Merlots are often used for blending, as their roundedness and mellow nature is a perfect way to balance out more astringent varietals, leading to fuller, more complex and silky quality wines. Indeed, many of the finest wineries in the world in esteemed locations across countries such as France and Italy are famed for their habit of using ripened Merlot grapes to their full potential.
California as a wine producing region has grown in size and importance considerably over the past couple of centuries, and today is the proud producer of more than ninety percent of the United States' wines. Indeed, if California was a country, it would be the fourth largest producer of wine in the world, with a vast range of vineyards covering almost half a million acres. The secret to California's success as a wine region has a lot to do with the high quality of its soils, and the fact that it has an extensive Pacific coastline which perfectly tempers the blazing sunshine it experiences all year round. The winds coming off the ocean cool the vines, and the natural valleys and mountainsides which make up most of the state's wine regions make for ideal areas in which to cultivate a variety of high quality grapes.
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: 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.