Uncorking the world's best wine regions
Argentina is considered part of the ‘New World’ of wine but in many ways it’s really the Old – vineyards were established mid-16th Century. It’s best known for its Malbec, predominantly grown in the Mendoza region (as is 75% of Argentinian wine) but also makes impressive Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sangiovese. Vineyards are often at high altitudes, with snow-fed irrigation networks, and the combination of high sunshine, warm days and cool night-time temperatures deliver vividly expressive fruit.
Australia may be our closest neighbour, but when it comes to wine there are many differences. New Zealand crushes around 400,000 tonnes of wine grapes per annum, whereas Australia crushes around 1.6 million tonnes. It’s also a lot older, with vines planted in the late 1700s in the very earliest days of the colony. The Hunter Valley region is Australia’s oldest continuously productive region, home to wineries dating back to the early 1800s, many of which remain under original family ownership. Australia’s Italian and Greek immigrant culture has also greatly enriched its wines
Chile’s vines were first planted in the 16th Century, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that its modern industry took off. Chile’s protected wine regions are varied but are often at high altitude, experiencing long, dry, and cool growing seasons with high sunshine. It makes vividly fruited, fresh wines from cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc amongst other varieties, and can deliver remarkably good value.
Wine has been made in France for around 2,500 years and almost all the world’s major wine varieties originated there - Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are just a few examples. French wine is almost always intended to be consumed with food, making it more savoury and restrained than a typical New Zealand style of the same variety. France labels almost all its wines by origin rather than variety.
Thought to be the birthplace of wine with over 8,000 years of cultivation, Georgia is home to some of the world’s most unique wine styles, with its ancient ‘kvevri’ method of burying wine in clay amphorae now accorded UNESCO heritage status. Despite political fallout from the 2008 Russian war, Georgian wine has undergone a global renaissance with wine drinkers discovering its distinctive savoury, textural wines made from native varieties.
Germany is best known for its world class Riesling but it’s far more than a one-hit-wonder. It also makes excellent pinot noir, sparkling wines, plus an impressive array of local varieties such as dornfelder and scheurebe. Germany has been making wine for over two millennia – there’s a cellar in the Mosel region dating back to 330 AD. It’s cool climate delivers great purity of fruit and high acidity, aligned with savoury depth and complexity.
Italy’s vines have been cultivated for more than 3,000 years. Each Italian region has its own native varieties and unique styles, with most designed around the local cuisine and lifestyle. Whites tend to be crisp and lighterbodied; the reds are often fruity, but also complex and savoury with a distinctively dry finish which makes them perfect as food wines.
As with Spain, Portugal has a fascinating wine culture and history dating back around 3000 years, and its wines have evolved alongside its cuisine (both of which are becoming an increasingly popular global trend). Portugal’s grapes are often grown along spectacular steep-sided granite river valleys, and there are 11 mainland wine regions – not bad for a country that is only 560km long and 200km wide – plus the islands of Madeira and the Azores. It is responsible for some of the world’s most unique and enduring wine styles in the forms of the fortified wines Port and Madeira, though there are plenty of red and white table wines to explore, almost all made from native varieties. Portuguese Albariño from Rías Biaxas is the perfect match for local seafood and its intense, spicy, berry-rich reds often resemble a toned-down version of Port.
Portugal at a glance
- Portugal is the 11th largest wine producer (impressive, as it’s 1/5 of Spain’s size)
- The Douro Valley, where Port is produced, is the world’s oldest demarcated wine region and a UNESCO World Heritage site
- All Portuguese wines have a seal of authenticity on the bottle neck
- Almost all Portuguese wines is made from its hundreds of native varieties, with many still being ‘discovered’ via DNA testing
Along with Portugal, Spain forms the Iberian Peninsula. Spain has a rich and ancient wine culture, and its vines stretch across varied terrain from the large, arid inland vineyards, the shimmering chalk soils of Jerez (where Sherry is made) and the hillside vineyards of northern Spain. While the fortified wine Sherry is one of Spain’s better-known exports, there are plenty of excellent table wines - savoury, fruit-rich red wines are the mainstay alongside whites ranging from savoury and textural to crisp and fruity. Wines are designed around the local cuisine, and many have extensive winemaking traditions, such as the Rioja Gran Reserva wines that are aged for years in barrel and bottle before release. Spain typically offers remarkably good value - though one can find eye-wateringly expensive wines too!
Spain at a glance:
- There are over 400 varieties in commercial production in Spain
- Wine has been in regular commercial production for at least 2000 years
- Spain is the world’s third largest producer and number one exporter of wine
- Sherry has been produced in Jerez, Spain since the 8th century, and exported since the 12th
With production dating back to the mid 1600s (apart from the 1920s Prohibition blip) all 50 states produce wine, many from non-vinifera (the traditional European vines) varieties. However, 84% of all American wine is from California, which has nearly 4,500 wineries. Wine styles vary enormously but typical styles are often bold and fruit-rich, with ripe flavours and generous oak. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are popular exports.