JULIAN HITNER TORONTO WINE CONSULTANT

"For love of everything that is wine"

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In the twenty-first century, the world is filled with places where grape vines are cultivated to produce wine for our enjoyment. While some might be more famous or (perhaps, concurrently) more successful than others, it is nonetheless clear that wine enthusiasts stand to benefit from all the interesting and delicious wines the planet is presently - via the growers, winemakers, and sellers - allotting to our gullets. Thus, it is with great pleasure that I undertake the construction of a basic summarization of the most important winegrowing regions of the world.

At present, I am working extremely hard to update this portion of my website! It has not been easy, as I wish nothing to be completed in a second-rate manner. For those persons (especially the citizens of Toronto) who have been patient, I thank you.

CLICK BELOW FOR DIFFERENT SECTIONS:
-ARGENTINA
-AUSTRALIA
-CHILE
-FRANCE
-GERMANY
-ITALY
-NEW ZEALAND
-PORTUGAL
-SOUTH AFRICA
-SPAIN
-UNITED STATES

ARGENTINA

Believe it or not, Argentina is the world's fifth-largest overall producer of wine, but only a surprisingly small percentage of it is actually exported to the rest of the world --- most of it is consumed by a highly-appreciative Argentinean populace. Does this mean that Argentinean wines have gone unrecognized by wine enthusiasts in other countries? Hardly!

Not dissimilar to Chile, Argentina's winegrowing profile has grown by leaps and bounds in a remarkably short period of time. For the past ten years, Argentinean winemakers have worked terrifically hard to raise the quality of their premium wines to world-class levels. This has been done via a variety of means.

HERE IS A LIST OF ARGENTINEAN
WINEGROWING REGIONS:

  • Mendoza: As far as plublicity is concerned, Mendoza is the most important wineproducing region in South America's biggest winegrowing nation, not just in terms of volume but also in terms of overall quality. Situated right next to foothills of the Andes Mountains (on the other side of which lies the Central Valley winegrowing region of Chile), Mendoza constitutes roughly two-thirds of Argentina's entire winemaking industry.
In addition to Mendoza, the past several years have also witnessed dramatic expansion projects within surrounding regions. At present, these new winegrowing areas (such as San Juan, La Rioja, Catamarca, Salta, and Jujuy have really yet to establish themelves on the world scale. Given a few years, however, it is all but certain that the aforesaid regions will make their mark.

AUSTRALIA

In very general terms, few winegrowing nations have ever been able to match Australia's enthusiasm for producing wines of both certified quality (and quantity) and unmistakable uniqueness of flavour. However, it was only around thirty years ago – vines have have grown in Australia for hundreds of years – that anyone outside of Australia really seemed to sit up and take notice. Now, in the twenty-first century, Australia has generally come to be regarded as one of the finest winegrowing nations in the 'New World.'

On the whole, a great deal of Australia's winemaking success is owed to the suitability of its winegrowing regions to produce wines of first-rate quality, as well as to the talented abilities of Aussie growers and winemakers, who are able to develop and harness the individualistic flavours Aussie-grown grapes are capable of producing. To be perfectly clear, Australian winemakers are extremely proud of their ability to utilize different 'international grapes' (as well as ones that are not as well known) in order to produce wines of remarkable distinction, from ultra-massive Shiraz (filled to the brim with wonderful spice and chocolaty notes) to first-class Chardonnay that differs tremendously from what one might find anywhere else in the world --- this is the essence of premium Aussie wines, in that they are different
– but hardly inferior to – their cousins back in France and California (or even those in South Africa and South America); and once a wine enthusiast is able to understand this, it is then that he or she will be able to understand the greatness that is Australian wine.

UNDERSTANDING THE AUSTRALIAN
LABELING SYSTEM:


Unlike its 'Old World' counterparts, the labels on Aussie wine bottles are hardly difficult to understand. Aside from (at least usually) clearly stating the vintage (i.e. the year) and the grape varietals included in the wine, most bottles will also be quite specific (especially premium items) as to the actual region (and/or subregion) of Australia where the wine had been made, the very latter being governed by the Geographical Indications Committee.

HERE IS A LIST OF AUSTRALIAN
WINEGROWING REGIONS:


SOUTH AUSTRALIA:
  • Barossa Valley: In (associative) terms of both overall production and quality, there are very other winegrowing places in Australia (with the possible exception of McLaren Vale and Margaret River) that are able to match the supremacy of the Barossa Valley. Located less than sixty kilometres north of the city of Adelaide and home to a good number of world-renowned wineries, the Barossa Valley is best known for the powerful, highly-concentrated Shiraz it can produce from exceptionally old vines, some of which have been giving grapes for over a hundred years. In addition, Barossa is also home to some of Australia's most exciting blended reds and whites.
  • Clare Valley: Best known as the 'cool climate' subregion of South Australia, but more versatile than some wine enthusiasts (and even experts) might initially think. While some of Australia's best Riesling comes from here (along with Semillon), Clare Valley is also home to some excellent producers of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Coonawarra: One of the most upcoming sub-winegrowing regions in Australia, Coonawarra's reputation is based primarily on the deeply 'warm' Cabernet Sauvignon and spicy Shiraz it can produce, along with some excellent Chardonnay and Riesling. Compared to other winegrowing regions, Coonawarra is really remote, located around four hundred kilometres southeast of Adelaide. Along with Clare Valley, it is one of the coolest winegrowing areas in South Australia.
  • McLaren Vale: Along with Barossa Valley (and perhaps Clare Valley), McLaren Vale is one of most qualitatively productive subregions in South Australia. Possessing a very hotclimate and "deep rich soils," as well as a good number of vines older than a centrury, McLaren Vale is home to some of the finest wineries in Australia. Though probably most famous for its spicy-sweet Shiraz as well as its brilliant red-grape-derived blends, McLaren Vale is also capable of producing some excellent whites wines, both blended and unblended.
WESTERN AUSTRALIA:
  • Margaret River: Compared to most other regions (with the possible exception of Coonawarra), Margaret River is arguably the principle centre for the production of high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia, as well as excellent Cabernet-Merlot blends. Located about three hundred kilometres south of Perth, Margaret River is home to a host of celebrated wineries, as well as an increasing number of up-and-coming small estates. For whites, Margaret River is also home to some first-rate Chardonnay, as well as Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and even Verdelho and Chenin Blanc.
  • Swan Valley: Upcoming winegrowing region (yet the oldest in Western Australia), located right near the city of Perth. Grape varietals that seem to do particularly well here are Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, Verdelho, and Chardonnay.
NEW SOUTH WALES:
  • Hunter Valley: Located around 160 kilometres north of Sydney, the Hunter Valley is one of Australia's most exciting winegrowing regions to keep an eye on. Older than any other winegrowing area in Australia, the Hunter Valley is a very warm, humid region within which to produce wine. These days, the Hunter Valley is an excellent source for all sorts of different types of fine-quality wines, from classic, 'Aussie-style' Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon to lovely cooler-climate Chardonnay and Semillon.
VICTORIA:
  • Yarra Valley: Recognized as one of Australia's finest 'cool climate' winegrowing regions, many twenty-first-century wines coming out of the Yarra Valley (which is located only forty-eight kilometres east of Melbourne) have been met with well-earned enthusiasm. Without doubt, Pinot Noir is the Yarra Valley's most pronounced trump card, offering great intensity and notable elegance at its best. Among whites, Chardonnay has proven to be a clear winner. Recently, the Yarra Valley has also been producing increasing amounts of premium sparkling wine, made from the aforementioned grape varietals.

CHILE

For all intents and purposes, among wine experts and general enthusiasts alike, Chile is (at least arguably) currently the most up-coming winegrowing nation in the world. In the course of just ten years or so, Chile has gone from producing largely (locally-consumed) moderate-quality table wines to making wines that – in their respective categories – rival some of the world's finest grape-derived items. At the present time, it almost seems like there are no limits to what Chile is capable of achieving.

In the past ten years, Chile's primary successes have come from its winemakers' abilities to make excellent use of 'international grape varietals,' particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah for reds, and Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for whites. At the same time, Chile has come to even possess its own 'flagship' varietal: the noble Carmenère varietal.

Another key element to Chile's winegrowing success has also come from the almost-brilliant winegrowing conditions it possesses. Climate-wise, few other winegrowing countries are as blessed as Chile. With excellent sunlight and warm temperatures, the latter of which is moderated by being in close proximity to both the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, it is very rare for the central winegrowing regions of Chile to really ever experience a truly dismal vintage. Having never been affected by widespread disease or risk of a serious flood (most vineyards in Chile are irrigated by the Andes), Chile is also blessed with a good number of old vines, which can be used to produce more mature wines. In the end, then, it does seem apparent that the twenty-first century ought to bear witness to some extraordinary wines coming out of this highly-progressive South American winemaking nation.


HERE IS A LIST OF CHILEAN
WINEGROWING REGIONS:

  • Valle Central: From what it appears, the Valle Central (or Central Valley) is leading the way in the production of top-flight Chilean wines. It is made up of four valleys (or subregions), located just south of Santiago (the Chilean capital). They are, from north to south: (1) Maipo; (2) Rapel; (3) Curicó; and (4) Maule. For the past several years, each of these subregions are also being further divided into sort-of 'sub-subregions,' as owners and growers are coming to recognize the unique winegrowing qualities of increasingly-more-specific areas.
    • For its part, the Valle Central is probably most famous for its premium reds, especially those derived from the Maipo Valley; it is here where the noble Cabernet Sauvignon grape varietal really makes its mark, along with Merlot, Syrah, and Carmenère.
    • Over the past six years or so, there have been great strides within the subregions of the Valle Central to further identify and demarcate more promising winegrowing vineyard sites. This has (thus far) culminated in the creation of such 'sub-appellations' as Clos Apalta and Colchagua (Rapel) and Puente Alto (Maipo).
MORE COMING SOON

FRANCE

Without question, France is the most prestigious winegrowing nation in the world, featuring (both in quality and quantity) more expensive, more premium, and more sought-after bottles than any other country under the sun. In the twenty-first century, many French winegrowing regions – especially those of the upper crust – continue to carry a certain exclusivity that most other wine-producing nations only dream of retaining.

In all, much of France's winegrowing success (specifically those at the highest levels of quality) has to do with the fact that the different wines grown on French soil are extraordinarily varied in even their most basic characteristics. Because of its diverse landscape, France is home to around a half-dozen winegrowing regions that produce wines that are uniquely different from one another; and this can be easily seen when examining both red wines and white wines. In fact, France possesses more 'international grapes' en masse than any other country! Associatively, for many winegrowing regions of France
– particularly Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne – the wines that are made in these areas are often considered the 'benchmarks' by which other wines of the same type of varietal are judged throughout the world.

Entering into the twenty-first century, however, not all has been terrific on the French winemaking scene. For the past several years, France (along with several other leading winegrowing nations) has been experiencing ever-increasing difficulty competing with upcoming 'New World' winegrowing countries, particularly Chile and Argentina, not to mention Australia and New Zealand.


UNDERSTANDING THE FRENCH
LABELING SYSTEM:

Though rules may vary somewhat according to region, bottle labeling in France (depending upon its type) is governed by a strict set of regulations. By far, the most important of these labeling systems is that of the A.O.C. (the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlé) --- for any wine expert or general enthusiast, I cannot stress enough that this is one of the most important labeling systems in the world to understand!

Without mentioning every single one, there are hundreds of appellations in France, some of which are vastly more significant than others (a good example this would be to compare Pauillac A.O.C. in Bordeaux with Maury A.O.C. in the Languedoc).

When examining a specific bottle, be sure to look for the A.O.C., because this is usually all the information that will be given on the origin of the wine (ex. Vouvray  A.O.C.: this appellation is in the Loire winegrowing region of France, but the bottle might not state this). In general, prestigious French winegrowers and owners do not believe in giving any more information than they have to; and this is why many expensive French wines will usually show neither name(s) of the grape(s) nor provide a brief description on the back of the bottle.

At the lowest end of the spectrum are wines labeled Vins de Table (which simply stands for 'table wine').


HERE IS A LIST OF FRENCH
WINEGROWING REGIONS:


BORDEAUX:

For all intents and purposes, Bordeaux is not only the most prestigious winegrowing region in France, it is also the most renowned winegrowing area in the entire world. For centuries, Bordeaux has been producing some of the world's most expensive and sought-after bottles for an ever-increasing audience, from Northern Europe and North America to India and the Far East.

Arguably known best for its highly-elegant and
aristocratic-like – not to mention extraordinarily-expensive – dry red wines, the best wines of Bordeaux are generally consumed by very few fortunate individuals. In Bordeaux. what matters most at the premium end of the spectrum is cash; and with a finite supply each year and an ever-growing market, these wines are probably going to get increasingly expensive as the years progress, the most recent example being the record-price-setting, 'legendary' 2005 vintage.

THE BORDEAUX LABELING SYSTEM:

In order to understand a typical Bordeaux bottle label, it is absolutely crucial to realize that most premium-quality Bordeaux wine is based on the hierarchical status of the estate from which it
– that is, the bottle of wine – came. In Bordeaux (with several critical exceptions), hierarchy is everything!

In most subregions of Bordeaux, there exists different individual status-related categories that most premium estates fall under. The most famous of these is that of the
Médoc, which uses the ever-famous (and ever-contentious) 1855 Classification. Created at the request of Emperor Napoleon III, this system covers sixty-one estates (all of which are located in the Médoc, with one exception). In a nutshell, the 1855 Classification is made up of five categories, or 'Growths.' At the top, there are only five estates that hold the title of 'First Growth,' and the prices wines from these estates fetch are increasingly incredible.

SUBREGIONS OF BORDEAUX:
  • Médoc: Otherwise referred to as the 'Left Bank' of Bordeaux (because it is located along the left side of the Gironde River), the Médoc is home to some of France's most prestigious estates. Located north of the actual city of Bordeaux, red wines grown in the Médoc are best known for their ability to age longer than most other reds in the world. The most prestigious appellations are, traveling north from the city of Bordeaux, Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac, and St-Estèphe; and wines from each of these appellations tend to have their own distinct style (depending, of course, on terroir).
    • On the whole, the principle source of the Médoc's great success lies in the extraordinary soil on which its vines are grown. Made up of clay, gravel, sand, and small amounts of limestone (albeit in varying quantities, depending on the specific location), along with a great deal of alluvial deposits in the subsoil, the Médoc is blessed with some of the most well-drained soil in the world. As such, vines grown in the Médoc have to dig deep in order to tap into proper amounts of moisture and nutrients, resulting in the production of wines with tannins that can age for extraordinarily long periods of time.
    • In terms of grape varietals, wines grown in the Médoc (all of which are blended) are derived predominantly from Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by Merlot and Cabernet Franc (along with, depending upon the estate, a little Petit Verdot and sometimes Malbec). Blended together, the premium wines produced in the Médoc are among the most sought-after wines in the region of Bordeaux, itself.
    • While the actual characteristics of the wines tend to vary greatly, most wine experts (and enthusiasts) seem to agree that high-quality Médoc will seem noticeably earthy, harshly-tannic, and closed (on both the nose and mouth) in their youth, requiring a minimum of three-to-five years before they start to display signs of life. Still, even at a young age, top wines of the Médoc will, almost without exception, already begin to display enormous breed, structure, and finesse, providing valuable hints of what they will be like in the years to come. At the highest level, of course, there are a few wines (from certain vintages) that seem to have no pre-determined life span ... they just keep on going and going (ex. '61 Latour).
    • In terms of classification, the most famous estates in the Médoc are those that fall under the 1855 Classification, along with a few exceptions here and there. On the part of the consumer (and the critics), these estates are held to an extremely high standard, and the prices that they fetch would seem to indicate this.
    • Though few winemakers have had truly great success at it, there are a select few estates within the Médoc that endeavor to produce white wines (from Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon) of equal greatness as their reds. Up until now, the 'Pavillon Blanc' white wine label of First Growth estate Château Margaux has held top honours, but other wineries in the Médoc are beginning to prove their worth as exceptional crafters of white wine. IMPORTANT NOTE: white wines produced in the Médoc fall under the all-encompassing 'Bordeaux A.O.C.' category, regardless if all the grapes come from, say, Pauillac!
  • Graves: Located south of the Médoc, the Graves is arguably the most peculiar winegrowing region of Bordeaux. In effect, it is a sort-of continuation of the Médoc; at the same time, however, much of its most important sections surround (and sometimes even lie within) the actual city of Bordeaux, itself. Similar to the Médoc, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most important grape varietal, blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc; only the Graves is slightly warmer than the Médoc, so ripening (and harvesting) usually begins a few weeks earlier. In the past several decades, quality in the Graves has skyrocketed.
    • As its name sounds, the Graves winegrowing region is so named for its gravel-based soil (although there is plenty of sand and different kinds of clay present in the ground, as well). Traditionally, wines from the Graves were considered to be approachable earlier than those of the Médoc, as well as a bit more fruit-forward. I would argue that this has changed over the past ten years, as many wines seem to have become rounder and more complex. Either way, the future looks very bright for this important subregion of Bordeaux.
    • Unlike the Médoc, estates in the Graves hold a well-deserved reputation for being able to produce white wines as equally marvelous as their reds. More importantly, unlike the Médoc, white wines produced in the Graves are permitted to put the name of their actual appellation on their labels (ex. Pessac-Léognan A.O.C.). Made from the noble Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grape varietals, the most premium whites of the Graves can cost as much as the top reds (in some cases, even more).
    • The classification system of the Graves is relatively straightforward, as there is only one category! Created in 1953 (and expanded in 1959 to include white wines), top estates are awarded the rank of 'Premier Cru' based on the quality of their red wine or their white wine. With this in mind, however, there are also some estates that are ranked 'Premier Cru' for both their red wine and their white wine.
  • St-Emilion: Located just east of the city of Libourne, St-Emilion (along with Pomerol) represents the most important appellation of the 'Right Bank.' Surrounding the beautiful early-medieval village of the same name (St-Emilion has even been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site), St-Emilion enjoys, quite deservedly, its fair share of ultra-prestigious estates, exquisite wines, and modern-day controversies.
    • With regard to terroir, St-Emilion (which borders Pomerol) is somewhat damper and cooler than the Médoc, and is thus more reliant on earlier-ripening grape varietals. Thus, most St-Emilion reds are Merlot-based, and are routinely supplemented with Cabernet Franc (Cabernet Sauvignon plays only a very small part in the blend, if at all). The soil contents of St-Emilion can vary significantly. Heading northwest into Pomerol, the vineyards tend to be sand-and-gravel-based, while those that lie on the hills of the plateau just south of the town of St-Emilion, itself, are rich in clay and limestone.
    • Unique to Bordeaux, St-Emilion has developed a system of classification that is actually subject to revision every ten years. The first classification took place in 1954; the latest revision occurred in 2006. As it stands, there are just two estates enjoying top rank (or Premier Grand Cru Classé A --- this is practically equivalent to 'First Growth' status, if compared to the 1855 Classification). The next in line of prestige are occupied by fifteen estates, which are ranked Premier Grand Cru Classé B. Finally, there are forty-six estates that rank as Grand Cru Classé. Under the St-Emilion Classification, an estate can be promoted or demoted based on its overall level of performance.
MORE COMING SOON
BURGUNDY:

After Bordeaux, Burgundy is (arguably) not only the most prestigious winegrowing region in France, it is also unquestionably the most important area in the wrold for the production of both high-quality the noble Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grape varietals. On a lesser important note, Burgundy is also home to the refreshing and highly-'gluggable' Beaujolais wine (which is made entirely from Gamay).

THE BURGUNDIAN LABELING SYSTEM:

For most wine experts and general enthusiasts, the key to understanding high-quality Burgundian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is to able to understand the bottle-labeling system. Unlike Bordeaux (where the most of the estates fall under some sort of ranking system), the quality of Burgundian wine is almost exclusively determined from where the grapes are sourced --- in other words, the vineyard site. An estate in Burgundy might have plots in different vineyard sites from all over the region --- the more high-quality sites an estate possesses, the more prestigious the estate.

Though few in number, the top-quality vineyard sites in Burgundy are called 'Grand Cru' sites. Situated on the most prime soils and geographical sites of the region, nine times out of ten, wines that fall under this category are absolutely brilliant. They are the most highly sought-after of all Burgundian wines, and fetch prices that are capable of making even Bill Gates flinch --- well, that might be an exaggeration, but one can see that I not beating around the bush when I mean to say that Grand Cru Burgundy can be horrifically expensive!

Following Grand Cru vineyards are those designated Premier Cru sites. Wines from such vineyard sites (though not as expensive as their Grand Cru counterparts) are also highly-prized by both enthusiasts and collectors, and usually cost a lot of money. Some Premier Cru sites might even be capable of producing wines of Grand Gru status, and can age for incredible lengths of time.

The next category is probably the most complicated – even for more experienced wine enthusiasts. It is one where the name of a specific vineyard is allowed in the name of the village it is in, but is still not permitted – for reasons mostly related to quality (ex. the vineyard might be situated to the north) – to be called 'Premier Cru.' Officially, wines that fall into this category are called Bourgogne Villages or A.O.C. Communales. Though some wine experts might claim otherwise, the quality of wines that fall under this category traditionally depends on the producer's ability to harness these 'lesser vineyard' sites to the fullest potential --- many are capable of producing wines worthy of Premier Cru status.

The fourth and final category are wines simply labeled Bourgogne. These are wines that come neither from specific vineyards nor specific villages (though a couple of villages have the option of putting their name on the label). Depending upon the house (or estate), wines that fall under this category can be rather good, as well as reasonably priced. It is always wise, however, to keep in mind the reputation of the house that produces it, as some are truly better than others.

SUBREGIONS OF BURGUNDY:
  • Chablis (A.O.C.): Along with Beaujolais, Chablis is arguably the most well-known type of wine to come out of Burgundy. Interestingly, Chablis is a relatively isolated area, separated from the rest of the Burgundian winegrowing region by several hundred kilometres.
    • Exclusively devoted to white wine (that is, Chardonnay), Chablis is a single A.O.C. (with sites designated Grand Cru and Premier Cru). Generally speaking, the quality of Chablis – even at the lowest levels – is noticeably admirable. At the higher end, Chablis wines are beautifully crisp, boasting an elegant 'mineral-like' feel on the mouth. For any true wine enthusiast, one should alsoways be on the lookout for purchasing good-quality Chablis; generally speaking, it is not the expensive, nor particularly difficult to obtain. For my part, I have never tasted a really poor Chablis.
MORE COMING SOON
CHAMPAGNE:

Incomparable with any other winegrowing region of its type on Earth, Champagne is the epitome of premium sparkling wine. Located around the lovely medieval town of Reims, Champagne is the most northerly winegrowing area of France; and, in the twenty-first century, it is also one of the most successful --- these days, the world cannot seem to get enough of the 'bubbly' coming out of this serene environment. In the past decade, prices for Champagne have soared. As a result, local authorities have even had to allow the expansion of vineyard plantings.

Now, it has been often wondered what makes Champagne sparking wine so special compared to any other sparkling wine (which can, at times, be of equal quality) made in other parts of the world? The answer, my fellow wine enthusiasts, is (arguably) twofold.

On the one hand, there is the actual name of 'Champagne' --- because of its noteriety, sparkling wine from Champagne has debatably assumed, in the twenty-first century, a sort-of larger-than-life status; for owners of Champagne houses and merchants, this translates into enormous price gouging, the likes of which is only really comparable to the price markups in the diamond trade.

On the other hand, there is the ever-tenuous matter of quality --- put simply, winemakers in Champagne and owners of houses generally ensure that no expense is spared in the production of their product. 'Precision winemaking' (as it is often referred to in France) is seldom lacking in the making of sparkling wine in Champagne. As such, the end result is a product of almost-unparalleled quality, one which is demanded by consumers around the world for every celebratory occassion that can be conjured into existence.

RHÔNE:

After Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne, it is fiercely arguable that the
Rhône Valley is the most prestigious winegrowing region of France. The reasons? Quality, style, and (related to style) popularity. Concerning the very former, over the past several decades, the overall quality of Rhône wines have soared at practically every level, from simple 'entry range' Rhône plank (which falls under the all-encompassing Côtes du Rhône A.O.C.) to impossible-to-obtain ultra-premium bottles (ex. Hermitage A.O.C.).

On style,
Rhône red wines, the majority of which are crafted from the beefy, yet oftentimes unmistakably elegant Syrah (particularly in the northern half) and appealingly 'rough-and-ready' Grenache (particularly in the southern half) grape varietals, have a not-unfounded reputation for being fuller in body and higher in alcohol than many other French wines (although winemakers from the Midi might argue to the contrary), especially when compared to their counterparts in Bordeaux and Burgundy, as well as the Loire Valley. As a result, Rhône wines have gained extraordinarily in popularity amongst certain persons (especially Americans) who prefer bigger, larger-toned wines.

RHÔNE WINEGROWING REGIONS:

NORTHERN RHÔNE:

In modern times, the
Rhône winegrowing of France is divided into two regions with a distinct style: the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône. About the former, the Northern Rhône is widely regarded to begin just south of the city of Lyon, extending all the way down the Rhône River to about 15 kilometres north of the town of Montélimar. In this vast stretch of land there is, believe it or not, only one red grape varietal allowed: Syrah.

Along with Australia (where it is known as Shiraz), it is in the Northern
Rhône where the glorious Syrah grape reaches, quite arguably, its greatest achievements. Often blended (just a tiny bit, mind you) with the Viognier white grape varietal (except in the famous Hermitage appellation) as a sort-of 'softener,' Syrah from the Northern Rhône will often taste nothing like its associates in The Land Down Under. At the highest level, these wines have remarkable staying power, easily rivaling Bordeaux in some cases. The most important appellations are, traveling south from the city of Lyon, Côte Rôtie, Condrieu (white wine only, from the Viognier grape varietal), St-Joseph, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, and Cornas.

SOUTHERN RHÔNE:

A much larger (and more confusing) region than the
Northern Rhône, the Southern Rhône (covering 43,000 hectares) constitutes the bulk of wine production in the Rhône winegrowing region of France, with most wines falling under the Côtes du Rhône A.O.C. In the past several years, however, as quality continues to increase, more and more winemaking areas are being promoted to one label higher: Côtes du Rhône-Villages. One further step still, around twenty of these areas are allowed to append the name of their local village to the label (ex. Rasteau).

In the
Southern Rhône, the Grenache grape varietal reigns supreme. Often blended with Syrah and Mourvèdre (among other grape varietals), these wines tend to taste a good dealer heavier than their counterparts in, say, Bordeaux, as well as will (usually) carry much migher alcohol levels (after all, the Rhône is a much warmer climate, especially in the south).

By far, the most famous appellation of the Southern Rhône is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and rightfully so. Located north of the gorgeous little city of Avignon, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is traditionally a blended wine comprising up to (believe it or not) thirteen different grape varietals! This being said, most Châteauneuf is made primarily from Grenache (which usually makes up four-fifths of the wine), and is commonly blended with Cinsault, Syrah, and Mourvèdre.

Make no mistake,
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a 'big' wine, with high alcohol, lots of 'tight fruit' (as well as notes of leather, tar, and spice), heavy-handed tannins, and long-term cellaring potential. Often tasting very 'closed' when young, most Châteauneuf demands aging to bring the wine into focus.

MORE COMING SOON

GERMANY

In many ways, the last several decades of the twentieth century were grossly unrepresentative of the quality German winemakers are capable of achieving, particularly with regard to the 'noble' Riesling grape. For years, wine enthusiasts had been turned off by the glut of sugary and watery – and sometimes downright terrible – white wines coming out of the Fatherland.

Mercifully, however, in the past half-dozen years, German wines (particularly those made from Riesling --- indisputably Germany's flagship grape) have been making a slow and steady comeback, as more and more modern wine enthusiasts (either tired of Chardonnay or simply looking for something new and well-priced) have come to discover the awesomeness that is German Riesling.

Though quite a sizeable country (by European standards), the majority of quality winegrowing in Germany is centred around the mid-southwest portion of the nation, particularly along the Rhine and Mosel rivers (along with their tributaries).

Because of its location in the northern part of continental Europe, vines in Germany are always at risk of not being able to ripen fully (and this was always a serious concern in past centuries. As a result, the best vines (or vineyards) in Germany are those that are on well-established slopes facing the south --- this is a very important thing to understand, especially when researching the quality of a specific vineyard site, as it is displayed on a QmP bottle label (see below for more information)!

UNDERSTANDING THE GERMAN
LABELING SYSTEM:

Along with the Italian wine labeling system, that of Germany is one of the most complicated a wine enthusiast (or even an expert) will ever come across! However, one should not be completely put off by the large and seemingly-undecipherable words found on most German wine labels, as there is a certain formula most German wine bottles follow.

In the twenty-first century, most German wines fall under the Qb
A (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete) and QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat) systems. In English, the former roughly translates to "quality wine from a designated region," and the latter roughly translates to "quality wine – from a designated region – with special attributes."

For the most part, the QbA system is relatively straightfoward. On the label, it will contain the name of the estate, the winegrowing region where it is produced, as well as the vintage. The bottle might also even include a title of some sort (this should not be confused with the actual name of the estate). Furthermore, the bottle might very well contain the name of a vineyard site --- do not be alarmed at seeing this (German vineyard site usually have very long names), but be sure not to confuse this with the name of the estate, either. In general, most QbA wines of are acceptable quality (chaptalization is allowed), but most of them are quite unremarkable. Under the German labeling system, the best wines fall under the QmP system.

Compared to its QbA counterpart, the QmP system is somewhat more elaborate. Divided into six sub-categories (or levels), the QmP system is based almost entirely on a wine's natural sweetness (chaptalization is not permitted for QmP wines). At each level, the quality of the wines is generally very high --- the six levels of sweetness are as follows: (1) Kabinett; (2) Spätlese; (3) Auslese; (4) Eiswein; (5) Beerenauslese (or BA for short); and (6) Trockenbeerenauslese (or TBA for short). The labels of QmP wines are usually among the easiest to understand, as most will make it quite clear as to which is the name of the estate and which is the name of the vineyard site, if there is one (unlike QbA wines, most will not contain a fancy title); of course, all of them will contain the vintage on the label, as well.

For QmP wines, the most important thing for a consumer to know is the vineyard site, because that will probably be the single most important indicator of the wine's quality --- this is not dissimilar to the way that wines from Burgundy, France are labeled --- vineyard site is everything! Like the finest vineyard plots of Burgundy, those of Germany of appendaged to the name of the village in which it is located. As an example, the prestigious Middle Mosel vineyard site of Wehlener Sonnenuhr is located within the village boundaries of the Wehlen village. Confusing? Definitely!

At the lowest end of the spectrum are wines labeled Tafelwein (which simply stands for 'table wine').

HERE IS A LIST OF GERMAN
WINEGROWING REGIONS:

  • Mosel: Otherwise known as the 'Mosel-Saar-Ruwer' (on actual wine labels, this has recently been reduced just to 'Mosel'), the Mosel winegrowing region offers some of Germany's (and the world's) most elegant and ageworthy Riesling wines. Beginning just southwest of Koblenz and ending at the Geman-Luxembourg border (a distance of about 190 kilometres), the Mosel is as picturesque a winegrowing region as they come, fostering the romantic side of even the most manly of men (such as myself).
    • Along with premium Chardonnay from Burgundy, it is highly arguable that (at least at our present point in history) the finest Riesling wines of the Mosel represent some of the greatest (and most unique) white wines on the planet. Even at the Kabinett level, the best wines can easily age for up to ten years (although most ought to be drunk between four to seven years).
    • Along the river, the most exceptional vineyard sites are always south-facing (as a northerly climate, this is a rule that generally applies to all prestigious vineyards in Germany --- do not forget this!). According to most 'experts' on Mosel whites, the best sites (traveling down from Koblenz) are as follows: (1) Piesporter Goldtröpfchen; (2) Ürziger Würzgarten; (3) Wehlener Sonnenuhr; (4) Bernkasteler Doctor; and (5) Scharzhofberg. Although there are other extremely fine sites, these five are generally considered to be the cream of the crop; and prices, especially those from the best estates, will reflect this.
  • Rheingau: Historically, this is the most famous winegrowing region of Germany, capable of producing astonishing Riesling of immense complexity, overall weight, and aging potential. Unfortunately, the latter half of the twentieth century saw a considerable downturn of this once-glorious region. Poor investment, coupled by the overproduction of the cheapest-quality wine possible, resulted in the plummeting of the reputations of some of the greatest estates. Thankfully, however, in the past decade or so, many wineries in the Rheingau are beginning to get back on track, with young winemakers and growers aiming for lower yields and better utilization of important sites.
    • Generally speaking, the Rheingau winegrowing region is recognised to begin west of the metropolis of Frankfurt around the town of Hochheim am Main and end around the bend of the Rhine river at the town of Assmannshausen.
    • After Riesling, the most important grape varietal of the Rheingau is Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir).
  • Pfalz: For all intents and purposes, the Pfalz is indisputably one of the most impressive winegrowing regions in Germany, equaled (or surpassed) only by the Mosel (or perhaps, in former days, the Rheingau) in terms of overall prestige. Possessing (arguably) more high-end estates than any other region, this Pfalz winegrowing region enjoys the reputation as one of the best production zones for top-quality Riesling in the world.
    • Located along the eastern half of the Haardt Mountains south of Mannheim (stretching about eighty kilometres), the Pfalz is privy (unusually by German winegrowing standards) to a notably 'comfortably-warm' climate.
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ITALY

When it comes to the production of wine, Italy is unquestionably one of the most important nations in the world. Possessing some of the most fertile land on the entire planet (much of which is aptly suitable for growing vines), Italian winemakers are undeniably spoiled when it comes to the potential quality of their winegrowing operations.

Ranking first among winegrowing nations in terms of overall production, Italy retains quite a high number of prestigious regions and labels within the ranks, from Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino (both in Tuscany) to Barolo (in Piedmont) and Amarone (in Veneto). In addition, the Italian peninsula is also home to a fantastic assortment of widely-consumed everyday drinking wines, from agreeably-valued bubblies (such as Prosecco) and dry whites (most notably Pinot Grigio) to much-enjoyed cheap red table wines (such as Valpolicella, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, simple Chianti, and Primitivo). Put simply, Italy has something for everybody!

This being said, like most other wineproducing nations, the past several decades have also seen a great deal of dramatic changes in the ways Italian winemakers both actually cultivate and market their wines. Facing growing competition abroad, many winemakers have striven to modernize both their facilities and winegrowing techniques. At the same time, a good number of owners and growers have also set their sights on introducing increasing numbers of their wines onto the international market, realizing that retaining a global following is the best guarantee of survival in the cutthroat viticultural economics of the twenty-first century. In any case, the end result for wine enthusiasts has been a fantastic jump in overall quality of Italian wines (and their prices).


UNDERSTANDING THE ITALIAN
LABELING SYSTEM:

Without question, the Italian wine labeling system is one of the most complicated in the world. For sake of simple understanding, however, the following are a few things one ought to know.

To begin, most Italian wines (especially those that are exported) fall under the D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and D.O.C.G. (
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) systems, under which wineries are required to adhere to a proscribed list of regulations. Aside from indicating the regional origin of the wine (ex. Chianti Classico D.O.C.G.), practically all wines that fall under this system will feature the name of the estate (which can usually be found in very small letters somewhere at the bottom of the label), as well as some type of title for the wine, itself --- remember, the title of the wine should not be confused with the actual estate the wine is from.

To further drive Italian wine enthusiasts insane is sort-of 'middle system' called I.G.T. (Indicazione Geografica Tipica). Wines that fall under the I.G.T. labeling system are those that contain grapes (usually of the 'international' persuasion) that are not permitted under D.O.C. or D.O.C.G. regulations. Such wines as 'Super Tuscans' fall under this category, as do a whole load of other wines throughout Italy that
– while perhaps not matching 'Super Tuscans' in terms of quality or price – are nonetheless containing grapes not allowed under the D.O.C. or D.O.C.G. systems.

At the lowest end of the spectrum are wines labeled Vino di Tavola (which simply stands for 'table wine').

With this 'hierarchy' in mind, this webpage lists the various winegrowing regions of Italy (and their subregions) according to individual D.O.C. and D.O.C.G. labels, in alphabetical order. This is because most Italian wine tends to be referred to in this matter (ex. "I'd like to order a bottle of Barolo" or "Let's pick up a bottle of Chianti" or "I really enjoy drinking Soave on a hot summer afternoon").

Most Italian
D.O.C. and D.O.C.G. labels come from one of two things: (1) the traditional name of the wine (ex. Barolo D.O.C.G.); or (2) the name of the grapeand the town or area (ex. Barbera d'Alba).


HERE IS A LIST OF ITALIAN
WINEGROWING REGIONS:

PIEDMONT:


Compared to Tuscany (which is debatably the most famous winegrowing region of Italy), many average wine enthusiasts (and even some experts) tend to know a great deal more about the wines of Piedmont than the actual province of Piedmont, itself. Situated in northwest Italy, Piedmont is at a sort-of crossroads between both climates and cultures.

As the second-largest annual producer of wine in the country, Piedmont is home to some of Italy's most prestigious (and expensive) wines, particularly ones made from the 'noble'
Nebbiolo red grape varietal. And yet, though some wine writers might say I am being overly presumptive, the wines of Piedmont are a lot more diverse than most wine enthusiasts seem to actually realize. Indeed, the Nebbiolo-based wines of Barolo and Barbaresco are the most well-known, but there are plenty of other D.O.C.s worth exploring.

SUBREGIONS OF PIEDMONT:
  • Barbera d'Alba (D.O.C.G.): Located around the town of Alba, wines labeled 'Barbera d'Alba' come from 100% Barbera, which is a red grape varietal. Traditionally, vineyards planted with Barbera had been ones that were considered unsuitable for Nebbiolo; but this has begun to change, as growers have come to realize that Barbera is capable of producing some excellent, full-bodied wines.
    • These days, the finest Barbera is capable of almost ten years' aging, boasting nice, smooth fruit, and approachable tannins; Barbera has also been shown to do well when aged in French oak barriques.
  • Barbaresco (D.O.C.G.): Along with Barolo, wines from Barbaresco are made from 100% Nebbiolo, and (along with Barolo) are among the most delicious and expensive wines Piedmont has to offer.
    • As a general, wines from Barbaresco are shorter-lived than Barolo and somewhat lighter in both overall perfume density and flavour. However, no wine expert or enthusiast would ever dare to deny that most wines carrying the label 'Barbaresco' are of exceptional quality, in some cases fetching prices that are greater than those of Barolo.
  • Barolo (D.O.C.G.): Without a shred of doubt, Barolo is the most prestigious – and by far the most expensive – wine to come out of Piedmont. Nicknamed (quite majestically) as "King of wines and wine of kings," the actual subregion of Piedmont where Barolo is produced is located around a small village of the same name (the latter being positioned southeast of the small town of Alba). Barolo wines are made from 100% Nebbiolo (one of the most 'noble' non-French grape varietals in the world), and have the capacity for extraordinary aging potential.
    • In present times, Barolo is experiencing something of a transition, with winemakers coming to grips with modern techniques in the face of traditional winemaking practices. Over the past several years, wine writers have composed various articiles describing Barolo winegrowers as being in one of two camps: the 'traditionalist' and the 'modernist.'
      • Concerning the former, more traditional Barolo winemakers will generally seek to obtain higher levels of alcohol and tannin, as well as employ a longer fermentation (which will deplete the wine of colour) and increase oxidation. They will also age the wine for longer in large casks. As a result of these techniques, the wine will have to be aged in bottle longer before it is ready to drink, particularly for purposes of softening the tannins.
      • On the other hand, more modernist-style Barolo winemakers are generally after more fresh fruit, less pronounced tannins, and shorter fermentation. They also tend to utilize new French-style barriques, all of which tends to result in wines of more immediate appeal. In effect, some would argue such wines have a more 'international' style about them.
      • In the end, it is undoubtedly certain that most Barolo winemakers would agree that quality is the most important determining factor in their winemaking practices. As long as the wine comes from great grapes, tastes unique, and lives up to its name, there is nothing wrong with 'bending' tradition.
  • Dolcetto d'Alba (D.O.C.G.): Located around the town of Alba, wines labeled 'Dolcetto d'Alba' are derived 100% from the Dolcetto grape varietal. Like Barbera d'Alba, Dolcetto grapevines have traditionally been planted on sites considered to be unsuitable for Nebbiolo. However, over the past decade or so, winegrowers have done well to make better wines from this pretty-sounding grape.
    • In the twenty-first century, the best wines labeled 'Dolcetto d'Alba' tend to be fruity, smooth, and refreshing, and can age (at maximum) for up to five years.
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TUSCANY:

For dozens of centuries, travelers have been captivated by the awesome beauty of Tuscany's rugged-yet-gentle landscape, picturesque villas, and, most importantly, its seemingly-endless plots of olive groves and vines. Located in central-north Italy, Tuscany is the third-largest winegrowing region on the peninsula, specializing primarily in dry red table wines that vary remarkably in both quality and price.

SUBREGIONS OF TUSCANY:
  • Brunello di Montalcino (D.O.C.G.): Along with Chianti Classico (Riserva), wines from Brunello are the most delectable and deeply-flavoured Tuscany has to offer. Situated between Siena and the tiny beautiful village of Montalcino, Brunello is made from 100% Sangiovese --- however, the clonal selection of this Sangiovese is of a different strain than the one used in, say, Chianti Classico; to simplify matters, growers and winemakers tend to just call the grape 'Brunello.' For wine enthusiasts, opening up a bottle of Brunello – especially one that has been aged a bit – is really quite a thrill, for chances are a great deal of money had been spent on its acquisition.
  • Chianti Classico (D.O.C.G.): Positioned between Florence and Siena, Chianti (particularly in terms of volume) is arguably the most important winegrowing region within Tuscany. Specializing in dry red table wines, Chianti Classico is most famous for being the home and heartland of the much-beloved Sangiovese noble grape varietal, which is usually blended with Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and/or Merlot (as well as perhaps small amounts of white wine grapes, such as Trebbiano and Malvasia --- though, as of 2006, growers were no longer obliged to do so). It is here where the Chianti blend reaches its zenith of both overall quality and aging potential.
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VENETO:

Along with Piedmont and Tuscany, Veneto arguably makes up the 'holy trinity' of premium winegrowing regions in Italy. In terms of annual volume, Veneto produces more wine than any other province on the peninsula. While, quality-wise, most of this wine is not meant for the high-end market, Veneto is nonetheless home to one Italy's most captivating and flavourful red wines, the inimitable Amarone.

SUBREGIONS OF VENETO:
  • Amarone della Valpolicella (D.O.C.): Together with Barolo and Brunello, premium Amarone makes up the cream of the crop of Italy's fullest, most glorious (and expensive) red wines. Made up of three grapes that are dried on racks for about three months after being picked off the vine – the grapes being Corvina (most importantly), along with Rondinella and Molinara – Amarone is best known for its awsome concentration of dark fruit, teensy-sweet notes, and unquestionable finesse. The finest ones can age for several decades in a proper cellar, where it will lose its fruit but gain tremendously in both 'aristocratic' aromas and indisputable complexity.
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NEW ZEALAND

As one of the few truly 'cool climate' winegrowing countries of the 'New World,' twenty-first-century New Zealand is capable of producing all sorts of unique and high-quality wines. However, it was only in the early-1980s that New Zealanders actually began to take advantage of the potentially remarkable winegrowing conditions within their midst. Since then, however, New Zealand winemakers have never really looked back, retaining an ever-increasing (and appreciative) audience of wine enthusiasts, worldwide.

In general respect, a notably large proportion of New Zealand's claim to fame has come from its phenomenal Sauvignon Blanc. Arguably cultivated to its finest on the northern part of the South Island, the world began to take notice of NZ Sauvignon Blanc in the late-1980s, several years after it had been showcased at the NZ embassy in London, England, where participants were astonished at the remarkably zesty and grassy notes that the featured wines possessed. To this day, the production of high-quality Sauvignon Blanc was been one of the most important driving forces of the New Zealand wine industry.

With this in mind, however, over the past ten years or so, New Zealand winemakers have expanded their grape-cultivating repertoire on a quite dramatic level. Nowadays, the country boasts all sorts of delicious varietals (aside from Sauvignon Blanc), from world-class Riesling and Chardonnay to top-notch Pinot Noir and (as of late) cool-climate Syrah. Personally, I am very much looking forward to seeing what the Kiwis will come up with in the next several decades.


HERE IS A LIST OF NEW ZEALAND
WINEGROWING REGIONS:

  • Hawkes Bay: Located on the southeast coast of the North Island, Hawkes Bay is one of New Zealand's best-quality winegrowing regions. It is one of few places in New Zealand where Bordeaux red grape varietals (particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) are capable of developing fully; Syrah is also showing excellent potential. Some of New Zealand's best Chardonnay can also be found here.
  • Marlborough: For the most part, Marlborough is arguably New Zealand's most well known winegrowing region --- and rightfully so, many of the higher-quality wines that come out of Marlborough (both red and white) are quite wonderful. Located in on the northeastern tip of the South Island, Marlborough specializes primarily in zesty Sauvignon Blanc (along with top-notch Riesling, as well as a healthy dose of Chardonnay) and good-quality Pinot Noir, the production of wine in Marlborough has grown by leaps and bounds in a remarkably short period of time.
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PORTUGAL

In terms of distinctiveness, Portugal is arguably one of the most unique winegrowing countries in continental Europe, in that it continually looks inward in order to improve its wines.

Known primarily in past centuries for its Port (a fortified wine), the past dozen or so years have seen remarkable progress for Portuguese winemakers, specifically in terms of them being able to produce high-quality dry wines of nobly-distinctive local flavours. This has been accomplished because
– unlike many other continually-improving 'Old World' winegrowing countries (such as Spain, Italy, and Greece) – Portugal has opted to utilize the awesome potential of their own native grapes, instead of turning to the widespread production of 'international grape varietals.'

HERE IS A LIST OF PORTUGUESE
WINEGROWING REGIONS:

  • Douro: Beyond doubt, the Douro is the most important winegrowing region in Portugal. Located in a particularly isolated – and, until recently, annoyingly almost inaccessible – area of the country, the Douro is not only home to the production of Port, it is also the source of some of Portugal's best-quality (and most expensive) dry table wines.
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SOUTH AFRICA

Though having existed as a winegrowing 'nation' for around four hundred years, wines coming out of South Africa – at least until very recently – have always been somewhat of a letdown. However, when the horrible Apartheid ended in 1991, this quickly began to change. Now, in the twenty-first century, it seems that South Africa is ready to assume its place as one of the finest winegrowing nations of the 'New World.'

For all intents and purposes, South Africa has always possessed several excellent areas (mostly localized around Cape Town and to the north) that are highly conducive to the production of first-rate wines.


HERE IS A LIST OF SOUTH AFRICAN
WINEGROWING REGIONS:

  • Stellenbosch: Located about 50km east of Cape Town, the winegrowing region of Stellenbosch is truly one of the most beautiful wineproducing areas on the entire African continent. More importantly, it is also home to some of the most prestigious (and up-coming) wineries in the country.
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SPAIN

Like France and Italy, the words "Spain" and "wine" are – both historically and contemporaneously – irrefutably symbiotic; and yet it is only in quite recent times  (i.e. the beginning of this century) that Spanish winemakers have truly begun to recognize the spectacular growing conditions within their midst.

Over the last five years, Spanish winemaking has undergone an almost-unprecedented revolution, as growers
– especially the younger, more open-minded ones – have come to embrace all the new technologies and strategies available to them in the ultra-technological twenty-first century. In addition to new winegrowing regions being developed, previously under-performing ones have been rejuvenated with the introduction of new varietals and better winemaking techniques.

HERE IS A LIST OF SPANISH
WINEGROWING REGIONS:

(1) UPPER EBRO:

  • Rioja: On an qualitative (and international) scale, Rioja is arguably the most important premium wineproducing region of Spain (though several other regions now have a legitimate claim to this title), specializing not just in high-end red table wines, but also crisp whites and satisfying rosés.
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UNITED STATES

In the twenty-first century, the United States has firmly established itself as a committed winegrowing (and wine-consuming) nation. Now the fourth-largest producer in the world, the American 'wine machine' has come a long way in a remarkably short period of time. And as a monied country with a population of over three hundred million, it seems only fitting that this should be the case. With so many wine-thirsty tongues, eager to imitate the ever-popularized European 'good life,' Americans have eagerly taken to wine in gigantic numbers. The result has been a proliferation of both production (at all levels of quality) and consumption.

Believe it or not, wine is nowadays produced (albeit in varying quantities) in every single state in the Union! And yet, of fifty states, there are only about a half-dozen who have (at least arguably) had any truly genuine success at making a name for themselves. As such, for many wine enthusiasts (including myself), it remains difficult to think of the United States as a 'winegrowing nation' in the true sense of the word, unlike France or Italy, where wine is produced in almost every region of the nation.

This being said, there is no dispute that such places as California (along with Washington, Oregon, Michigan, Idaho, and even New York) have made, in some cases, amazing progress at producing world-class wine. It seems only fair, then, that we have a look at them.

HERE IS A LIST OF AMERICAN
WINEGROWING REGIONS:

CALIFORNIA:

As is well known, the heart of the U.S. wine industry lies in California (followed, in terms of quality, by Washington and Oregon). It is here in the 'Golden State' that the greatest successes are being realized, as winemakers and owners
– armed with excellent terrain and, in many cases, fistfuls of currency – continue to tailor and improve their wares.

In the past several years, however, many higher-end wines coming out of California have often been the subject of considerable controversy among both wine experts and general enthusiasts, alike. The main source of this controversy appears to stem from the currently-popular trend of making wines that seem to possess too much fruit and alcohol, and no real elegance. In blind tastings, many of these wines are rated exceedingly favourably by critics (most famously in the re-enactment of the 'Judgement of Paris') --- thus, they are rewarded with top-end scores (usually out of a hundred).

All the same, though, despite any controversy that exists over the stylization of higher-end Californian wines, it does seem quite certain that the overall quality of wines from the 'Golden State' are among the best in the world, and will continue to sell as such to an ever-increasing group of eager consumers for years to come.


HERE IS A LIST OF CALIFORNIAN
WINEGROWING REGIONS:
  • Napa Valley: Beyond question, Napa Valley is the most prestigious and exclusive winegrowing region within the 'Golden State,' as well as one of the most significant viticultural areas on the entire planet. While other regions (such as Sonoma and San Francisco Bay) have proven themselves as being able to produce equally-tantalizing wines, the name "Napa" still carries more panache than any other winegrowing area in the state (and the nation).
    • To be certain, the terrain of Napa is remarkably diverse, with winegrowers becoming ever-increasingly cognizant of the fact that different parts of the valley will yield different types of wines. For sake of 'geographical simplification,' however, Napa Valley is best defined as being situated between two mountain ranges, the Mayacamas to the west (over which Sonoma County is located) and the Vacas Range to the east.
    • In terms of grape production, Cabernet Sauvignon is king, followed by Chardonnay and Merlot. However, it is wine(s) made from the very former grape which has landed.
    • Prices for bottles from Napa are never cheap, but some are definitely more affordable than others. In Napa, there are more 'cult wines' produced than anywhere else.
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  • Sonoma County: After Napa, the large and dynamic Sonoma winegrowing region (which is practically parallel to Napa, divided by the Mayacamas Mountains) has become a world-class location for making quality wine. It is much larger in area than Napa and even more diverse in terms of terrain.
    • For the past several years, many wineries in Sonoma have spent a great deal of time and money to plant the right grapes in the most suitable areas --- the result has been an impressive arrray of excellent wines, and prices have increased accordingly.
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