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France is without doubt the world’s supreme wine-producing country, unmatched for the finesse, style and sheer diversity of its wines. Bordeaux , Burgundy , Champagne , Alsace , Languedoc-Roussillon , Loire and Rhône valleys… France’s revered wine regions form a roll of honour beyond compare. The enduring appeal of France’s classic wine styles turns on the peculiarly French – and often controversial – concept of terroir , the belief in wine with a ‘sense of place’, with flavours and textures unique to its location, climate, terrain and soil, for which the grape provides a blank canvas. While competition from new world wines – consumer-friendly, fruit-forward and labelled by variety (French, naturellement ) – is helping to revitalise France’s wine industry, France’s terroir approach is bringing exciting change to new world wine countries too, reaffirming France’s pioneering role in the world of wine.
Photo: Vineyards in Chambertin, BurgundyView more info & list of wines
It is hard to imagine a more exciting or varied wine-producing country than Italy . With a vibrant winemaking history spanning over 2,000 years, and vineyards stretching from the Alps through the Appenine mountains to Sicily , the Italian peninsula is home to an enormous range of climates, topographies and soil types hosting hundreds of distinctive grapes unique to Italy. It is hardly surprising then, that Italy’s wine range is so diverse, spanning all colours and styles, from dry to sweet, still to sparkling, and everything in between. Enshrined in tradition, linked inextricably to Italy’s rich cultural heritage and regional cuisine, Italian wine is fundamental to Italian lifestyle, and it is impossible to resist either. While not all wines are as famous or revered as Barolo , Chianti , Brunello or Amarone , Italy and its wines remain the ultimate destination for wine lovers everywhere.
Photo: Vineyards at Giacomo Conterno, PiedmontView more info & list of wines
Spanish wine has never been so exciting, as a new generation of dynamic wine producers pushes the boundaries. Moving away from bulk production that blighted its reputation, Spain is now focusing on quality and regional style. Rioja is no longer the lone jewel in Spain’s crown, nor is the Tempranillo grape the only darling of Spanish winemakers, for today there is a dizzying array of wine regions, wine styles and grape varieties in the fray. Recent years have seen Ribera del Duero and Priorat become virtual cults, while wine regions like Toro, Bierzo and Jumilla make wines with character and class. Cava exports now rival Champagne’s, and sherry is rejuvenating its image. Exit Spain’s dull, oxidized white wines, enter zesty Verdejo (from Rueda), peachy Godello (Valdeorras) and refreshing Albariño (Rias Baixas)! With all this and more, Spain is set to thrill wine lovers for years to come.
Photo: Vineyards at Hacienda Monestario, Ribera del DueroView more info & list of wines
Portugal is on a roll – well overdue. Loved by the Press and, despite the rate of exchange, offering great value, it is also a low wine-miles alternative to imports from further afield. Quality can be exceptional and a new generation of aspirant winemakers is set to put Portugal on the world map.
Portugal’s ambition to be seen as a top quality producer would have been unimaginable just twenty or so years ago but goodness they are making their mark. Somewhat in the shadow of Port and Madeira, the table wine portfolio of Portugal has made the very best of its obscurity. Cushioned from the barrage of fashion trends, they have been able to address quality issues without the eyes of the world bearing down. There is a sense of a real pioneering spirit and it is energising to be part of the adventure.
Photo: Vineyards at Quinta do Vale Dona Maria, DouroView more info & list of wines
Germany produces some of the world’s very finest white wines, presenting natural, grapey richness complemented by racy acidity. A really fine example sets off a roller coaster of emotion akin to a skilfully played piece of music. Riesling is king here, offering almost painful purity and precision.
Vineyards run the gauntlet of a very marginal climate, at the absolute limit of where grapes will ripen. This is both a constant threat and a magnificent opportunity as vine and man both struggle to balance two essential but dangerous elements in fine wine – acidity and sugar. We need acidity for freshness. Similarly, sugar has rather fallen from favour yet, here, in the best wines, the sweetness is grape ripeness, not sugar per se . Added sugar is indeed one of the problems further down the quality ladder. When ripeness and acidity come together harmoniously, the results can be electric.
Photo: Vineyards at Weingut Joh Jos Prüm, MoselView more info & list of wines
Austria’s wines are among the world’s most sublime, yet there are precious few bottles to go around. Unsurprising perhaps, when you consider that Austria’s entire vineyard area is just 40% of the size of the Bordeaux wine region. Added to this, Austrians drink 75% of their crop – quite understandable too, given the quality of Austria’s wines. The country's wine regions are impressive in their diversity, with complex soils, varied landscapes and myriad grape varieties, some unique to Austria. 70% of Austrian wine production is white wine, focused on Grüner Veltliner, a dry, spicy, super-stylish white wine made from Austria’s indigenous grape of the same name, while its taut, fine Rieslings and luscious dessert wines are outstanding. Delicious Austrian red wines are also made from local and international grapes including Pinot Noir.View more info & list of wines
Australia ’s wine industry has been phenomenally successful in the last 30 years and today is the world’s fourth largest wine exporter, with wines sold in over 100 countries. Australia was the first of the ‘new world’ wine producing countries to understand how to appeal to modern wine drinkers, with its inexpensive, easy-drinking, wine styles. Its innovative strategy of producing and labelling wines according to grape variety proved highly popular and saw Australia steal valuable market share from traditional producing countries France, Italy and Spain . However there is more to Aussie wine than fruit bombs (however appealing!) The astonishing array of high quality, characterful wines now emerging from Australia’s diverse wine regions is testament to the efforts of its talented viticulturalists and winemakers and their pursuit of quality and finesse.
Photo: Vineyards at The Lane, Adelaide HillsView more info & list of wines
North America has been producing wine for over 300 years and is now the fourth largest wine producer in the world. While many consumers associate North American wine with California (where indeed most is produced), it may surprise you to discover that a winery exists in every US state and in Canada too. The style and quality of North American wines varies dramatically according to region, climate, geography, soils, grape varieties used, and – importantly – the producer behind the wine. North America’s principal wine regions, from a qualitative and quantitative perspective, are arguably California , Oregon and Washington , whose best wines – based often on traditional European grape varieties – can rival the finesse and complexity of the world’s most acclaimed wines. Canada is noted too, for its signature ‘ice wine’ style, a rare dessert wine made in tiny quantities.
Photo: Vineyards at Dominus, CaliforniaView more info & list of wines
Argentina is one of the world’s most exciting wine-producing countries. Important both in quantity and in the quality and style of its wines, Argentina has much to tempt wine consumers of all palates and pockets. Its juicy, soft-textured, everyday-drinking wines made from European varieties such as Chardonnay, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are widely consumed both in Argentina and abroad. Yet Argentina’s finest wines are modern classics, their answer to the finesse of France’s traditional fine wine regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux, yet without (as yet!) the price tag. Such aspirational winemaking has much to do with Argentina’s rich European cultural heritage, along with its unique geography and economic background. From humble beginnings, Argentina’s wine industry now exports world-class wines to consumers all around the globe.
Photo: Achaval-Ferrer, MendozaView more info & list of wines
The quality and availability of Chilean wines have flourished in the last twenty years. While wine consumers worldwide enjoy the easy-drinking charm of Chile’s inexpensive fruity wines, Chile’s wine producers have higher aspirations too, to make stylish, complex wines expressive of their unique origins, wines with a tangible ‘sense of place’, a notion the Europeans call terroir. The successful development of wine regions like the ocean-cooled Casablanca and San Antonio Valleys (a stone’s throw from the Pacific), and the sun-drenched Elqui Valley bordering the Atacama desert, are examples of Chile’s recent progress in pursuit of quality and style. The impressive array of wines now emerging from these and other future classic Chilean wine regions is testament to the dynamism and vision of Chile’s talented viticulturalists and winemakers, offering delicious prospects for wine consumers.View more info & list of wines
New Zealand’s wines have soared in popularity in recent years, with jet-set Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc as popular as Sancerre on wine lists worldwide. While New Zealand’s signature Sauvignon style continues to impress, there is far more here to tempt wine lovers. Delicious white wines include spicy Pinot Gris and mouth-watering Riesling, while New Zealand Chardonnay can rival France’s top white Burgundy. Red wines ranging from Rhône-like Syrah to silky Pinot Noir are also attracting attention from the world’s toughest wine critics. The Marlborough wine region is renowned for its sassy Sauvignons, yet there are many other New Zealand wine regions now causing a stir, from Auckland in the North Island to Central Otago in the South. Yet despite such varietal and regional diversity, New Zealand’s wines display a common theme, marrying exuberant ‘new world’ flavour with stylish ‘old world’ elegance.View more info & list of wines
South Africa is one of the world’s most exciting wine-producing regions today. Post-Apartheid, the South African wine industry is in renaissance, supported by investment and a dynamic new generation of winemakers keen to push quality boundaries and develop new vineyards and wine styles. Yet South Africa’s wine production dates back to the 1600s, when the Dutch East India trading company established a provisions station in Cape Town and planted vineyards for wine and grapes. Strategic in trading terms, the Cape’s location has proved key to its wine styles too, for vineyards here are buffeted continually by cooling ocean breezes, tempering the intense heat at this latitude and giving near-perfect conditions for high quality grapes. South Africa’s wine profile reflects these conditions, melding its exuberant sunshine flavours with the elegance more typical of cooler-climate European wines.View more info & list of wines
Hungary’s complex wine heritage dates back at least to Roman times, and owes much to the country’s geographical position in Eastern Europe. This strategic location has seen Hungary under the rule of various empires from the Magyars to the Ottomans and Austrians, and their influences can all be seen in Hungary’s eclectic mix of grape varieties and wine styles. Hungary’s most famous wine export is undoubtedly Tokaji, a rare and exquisite dessert wine made only in tiny quantities in exceptional years, and by methods unique to the mountainous Tokaj region. Hungary’s wine industry is only now emerging from successive scourges of the last 130 years. Ravaged first by the phylloxera epidemic in the late 1800s then by two World Wars, Hungary’s vineyards and wineries fell into ruin under the Communist regime. Hungary is now quietly reclaiming its reputation for wines of high quality and style.View more info & list of wines
Often referred to as the cradle of winemaking, the Lebanon has been linked to wine for thousands of years, and the high quality of Canaan’s coastal wines is mentioned in the Bible. Wine production these days is centred in the fertile Bekaa Valley , whose warm Mediterranean climate, ancient soils and high altitude (many vineyards are planted at 1000m) create ideal conditions for quality wine production. Classic French grapes are planted cheek by jowl with old local varieties, yielding wines of exceptional character. The Bekaa Valley’s location a few miles east of Beirut has seen wine production suffer during times of political turbulence, in fact cult wine estate Château Musar was once forced to transport its grapes across the front line for pressing! The Lebanon’s wine industry is now thriving, helped by foreign investment and winemaking expertise that promise much for the future.
Photo: Château Musar