As wines have sprouted up from regions all over the world, there are particular regions that are more apt to produce certain wines. The French term terroir encapsulates the notion that the unique combination of climate, soil composition and location contributes to the quality and character of a wine. Wine is often said to reflect the terroir from which it came.
The lush wine country of Argentina is invaluable to Latin American and to the world. From geography to consumption, this country enjoys wine, consuming more vino per capita than any other Latin American country. Sporting a huge winegrowing region, Argentinean vineyards extending north and south as well as vertically, capitalizing on air space with the Andes.
Most wine from Argentina is grown on the western border in the shadow of the Andes. Summers are hot with little to no rainfall and winters are surprisingly cold. Annual rainfall varies, but with an unlimited supply of rivers flowing down from the Andes and artesian wells drawing on subterranean aquifers, these grapes are well hydrated. Additionally, Argentina’s sandy soils allow for necessary drainage and the mountainside location not only means better exposure to UV rays but also higher contrasts between day and night temperatures. Currents of air traveling down from the valleys lend to greater temperature differentials. Due to the dry climate, threatening diseases such as mildew and botrytis are rare. The Mendoza province of Argentina, founded in 1561, is the heartland of wine production with a handful of major vineyards. This bunch of winemakers now boasts a population of over 600,000. Equality in Mendoza is important, and it produces about equal number reds and whites. Burning a hole in the stereotypical Argentinean wine, the Uco Valley flaunts the highest natural acidity giving it the aging potential that other wines in this country lack. Some of its recognizable wines are Malbec and Semillon, but new plants of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir are taking a whirl on this geographical rollercoaster.
Arriving late as a New World producer, Argentina has been able to smoothly jump onto the bandwagon of the latest winemaking techniques, including the inner-stave treatment for "oaking". This wine diplomat has been known to embrace the techniques of foreign experts while still representing the region with distinctive Malbec, Torrontes and Argentinean-infused versions of the Four Big French varietals. In many ways, this mountainous region is the peak of winemaking excitement in Latin America.
In 2007, for the first time, Australia surpassed France in imports to the US. While many Australian brands are known for their colorful labels and animal extremity in the name, it's popularity in the wine world is more likely attributed to the combination of sunny climates, huge plantings of venerable varieties, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and sheer talent and technical know-how that are driving demands. There are no indigenous vines to Australia, however, that's par for the course with an "adopt-and-perfect" philosophy such as this. It's really no surprise these likeable mates are making a move from down under to topping wine export lists.
Australia can produce wines more economically than California and Europe; thanks to mechanized viticulture and a passion for perfection, it's possible to get terrific Australian wine at a great price. With cultivation techniques worth copying, Australian winemakers and viticulturists have developed canopy management, trellising and pruning techniques that are migrating to the other winemaking regions of the world. An informal exchange program has sprung upas Australian winemakers are swapping harvesting tricks with the northern hemisphere, but somehow we always managed to be a day behind. These noteworthy wines are making a name for themselves as the Shiraz can attest.
It hasn't always been domestic bliss; these West Coast wines have a history as complex as their impeccable flavor; plagued with pretense, politics and national and natural tragedies, California has proved it is definitely an enduring state. After missionaries benevolently planted vinifera grapes in California around 1780, these vines spent the next few eternities doing the kind of penance that certainly earned them their righteous flavor.
Turns out Schwarzenegger isn't California's only terminator- an 1880s phylloxera outbreak annihilated the industry when it was still at infancy, and just when things were looking up, wine production slowed again as the U.S. entered Prohibition. This short "dry spell" was soon eclipsed by World War II which left thriving California vineyards rare.
Almost as hard to survive as disease, prohibition and war, was the scrutiny and skepticism of the international wine community, but California had a bright future and proved it had the “ripe stuff” when it took a sip of victory from the equivalent to the wine world cup at the 1976 Paris tasting. It was here that California Chardonnay and Cabernet wines outshined esteemed Grand Crus and First Growths. The subsequent shock waves created a buzz of international interest in California wines that washed up on American shores. Many believe the true California wine that is so celebrated today is result of a victory in the war on terroir after the 1980s phylloxera reprise. "I'll be back" was no bluff when the disease forced Napa Valley and Sonoma vineyards to be completely replanted. This infectious sequel created a fresh start for the clean sweep to the top quality that is still characteristic of California wines today. There is now a pandemic demand for this liquid gold. These wines have experienced a popularity rush that has really panned out to a solid market and international recognition. I wish they all could be California grapes.
Oh Canada, I was making a mental list of great wine-producing regions and you were not on it: France, Italy, Spain, California. Canada? It is exactly this perception and a tricky climate that presents the challenges our northern neighbors have worked hard to overcome and produce a great product.
Canada's adroitness in adopting and mastering the art of other cultures is obvious, so why not viticulture? Canada put its vast amounts of land to good use after realizing that the finest grape varieties could be grown in its prime viticultural areas, causing the industry to undergo rapid and diverse expansion. In the 1970s and 1980s, cool climate grape varieties such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc were preferred.
Today, their twenty-something vines are producing deep, rich fruit with the intense aromatics often associated with cool climate wines, including the unique Peller Estates' luxury icewines. The fruitfulness of Canada’s early winemaking decisions flaunts true foresight.
Very little needs to be said to defend the reputability and popularity of French wine. France produces more fine wine than any other country, and has been one of the most influential wine producers for centuries. Furthermore, most of the industry’s international terminology originated in France, including the First Growth classification structure and the notion of terroir - the belief that the synergy between soil, exposure and slope shapes a wine's character and influences its quality. Their terroir philosophy even systemically influenced the industry with the creation of Appellation Controlée - a system certifying geographical locations to guarantee products from the area are characteristically up to par; thereby, ensuring quality. Wine is a fundamental part of French culture, which can be expected of a country so enthralled with gastronomy. Winemaking in France is truly an art as well as a science, and when it comes to wine, the French are the cream of the crop.
The epic tale of Greek wine dates back as far as the 7th century BC and on through the Classical Greek and Roman eras. Like pretty much everything, expansion of viticulture to the rest of the Mediterranean is credited to Greece. While other cultures of the time were content with mere mortal beverages like beer or "wine" made from dates or the lotus plant, Greeks worshipped and found their cultural identity in wine in the form of Dionysus, god of wine. Medicine, religious ceremonies, social occasions, meals - most everything in Greece involved or revolved around the fruit of the vine.
While wine worship in early Greek history is no myth, up until the 1990s, the growth of modern viticulture had been a true Greek tragedy, becoming a casualty of centuries of Ottoman rule. Not until after WWII and bitter civil war did wine make a comeback in this Mediterranean region. Winemakers decided to bottle up years of pent up oppression and invested in technology in the 1960s, which brought a shift to bottle sales, rather than bulk. It was this strategic planning that has ushered Greece into its current status in the contemporary wine culture.
Wine has always played an essential part in the daily life in Italy. In fact, until as recently as the late ‘80s, it was inconceivable to serve a meal without it. So while Greece might boast the birthplace of civilization, Italy is the vintage mother of winemaking as Roman legions spread the art throughout Italy and the whole of Western Europe- arguably the birthplace of viticulture is the true birthplace of culture. Second only to Spain in land under the vine, Italy differs from Spain and France in that grapes are grown in virtually every region of the country. From the cool Alpine hillsides of the North, to the southern island of Sicily, to the shady, umbrellaed central region of Umbria- Italy has it covered.
Despite a natural inclination to native varietals like Sangiovese or Nebbiolo, in more recent times, Italy has played the good neighbor and successfully given French varieties a go. Winemaking might be an ancient craft, but it is not antiquated and Italy has progressed a lot in the last 40 years. With the exception of Tuscany, Italy sold its wine in bulk until well after WWII. In true wine warehouse form, this country became known for low-cost wines and a subsequent reputation of low-quality. After the establishment of the 1960 D.O.C. laws, which regulated the quality of Italian wines, a modern renaissance of sorts transpired. After the wildly successful D.O.C. laws, stricter regulations were put in place when winemakers adopted the new and improved D.O.C.G. laws,clarifying labeling and further improving quality. The history leading up to the current quality and perfection of Italian wine that is poured into each bottle was not built in a day, but it most definitely can be drunk in one.
This unique wine-making country has a different kind of wine to offer: sake. While sake has become a growing trend in the form of sake bombs and accompanied by sushi all over the nation, this rice wine has been at the core of Japanese culture for the past 2,000 years. In fact, this beverage is so engrossed in Japanese life that learning about it can tell you a lot about Japan’s history, culture and social environment today.
Sake is a fermented beverage made primarily from rice and brewed using koji, yeast and water (but not just any water). Home to various kinds of natural water, the quality of water used in brewing sake is incredibly important to Japan. The producers of the well-acclaimed shizu-no-mai are proud to create their artisan sake with what is considered to be the purest water since the time of the Samurai. Sake’s alcohol content ranges from 13% to 16%.
Sake is a trademark of Japan and represents many of the ideals the Japanese embrace. From its earliest beginnings, sake has been a drink of reverence, family and friendship, consumed to mark important occasions. With this revered drink comes a series of traditions. One tradition holds that a person must never pour their own sake; instead another person (a friend or family member) ours for you, and you do the same for them. While this rice wine is a mainstay in Japan, sake has become an international player that is here to stay.
New Zealand winemaking has existed since the early 1800s. In fact, the modern wine industry owes much to the efforts of eastern European immigrants who settled in New Zealand around the beginning of the 20th century. These stalwart settlers from Croatia and Lebanon thumbed their noses at native naysayers and planted new varieties, introducing the skeptical populace to a brand new spin on bottled bliss.
Starting a sensual revolution of aromatic wines, vintners in this southernmost winemaking region have spent the last 20 years experimenting with grapes that thrive in New Zealand's cool climate and blending modern technology and traditional winemaking practices to conceive a whole new breed of whites. In the June 1999 issue of Wine Spectator Harvey Steiman wrote, "If you see a New Zealand wine on the shelf, and the price is right, you can't go too far wrong." He couldn't have been more right.
Despite a generally monochromatic acreage, New Zealand is fast becoming a cult classic with its fresh, crisp take on the traditional white wine. Followers in America and abroad have seen the white light.
A true contender of some of the finest wines in America, Oregon proves that greatness does not always come easily. With its difficult climate, Oregon’s vines struggle to produce ripeness; however, this relatively young region has emerged out of California’s shadow as a chief player its own right. Although Oregonian viticulture dates back to the late 1800s, Oregon was considered by U.C. Davis to be impossible terroir for vinifera grapes. Nevertheless, an idealistic group of stubborn individualists pioneered the present winemaking industry in the 1960s.
Activists such as Richard Sommer of Hillcrest Vineyards, Susan and Bill Sokol Blosser (eponymous winery) and David Lett of Eyrie vineyard recognized the similarities in latitude and soils with France’s Burgundy region, and they proved skeptics wrong. Once again, one of America’s very own pleasantly surprised the world when Oregon Pinot Noirs dominated their French counterparts are the Paris tasting in 1979. So impressed was famous Burgundian negociant, Robert Druhin, that in 1987 he purchased vineyards neighboring the Sokol Blosser estate in Oregon’s famous Dundee Hills in the Willamette Valley.
A victim of Old World colonization this New World wine producer actually has some vintage roots. The first grapes were pressed for wine at the Cape in 1659 under the command of Jan van Riebeeck. He had come to the Cape in 1652 with the always noble and selfless task of establishing a settlement on behalf of the Dutch East India Company- gifting the people with more than just the sheer benevolence of Dutch influence, but Dutch intoxication as well. While laws and languages in the region changed depending on who had a better poker hand, vineyards stayed planted, not developing until more extensive investment over a generation later.
South Africa now ranks ninth in volume and produces 3.1% of the world's wine. It has emerged as a global enterprise by maintaining strong cultural roots and a sense of social responsibility.
Concentrated around Cape Town, wine production gets good press with major vineyard and production centers in Paarl, Stellenbosch and Worcester. A "Wine of Origin" system was implemented in 1973 with designated production regions, districts and wards. Survival of the finest proved 60 regions were worthy of being officially declared appellations. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc transplants now proudly call South Africa home.
Historically, Spain has been known for cellaring some amazing conquistadors- the kind of fortified wines that conquer the palate. But like a true adventurer, it has spent the last 25 years bringing something new to the table and becoming an international leader in several renowned white and red table varietals. Not to be outdone, Spain ranks first in area covered by winegrowing regions, claiming 15.5% of the world's vineyards, and lives in a boast-worthy bronze age as the third largest producer of wine behind Italy and France.
Despite its predominantly red production , more than 61% of Spain's vineyards are white. This grape diplomat does not discriminate or put a cork in alcoholic aspirations, utilizing white varietals to produce a lot of brandy and sherry. Regal reds are Tempranillo, Bobal, Garnacha (Grenache) and Monastrell, and winning whites include Air'n, Macabeo, Palomino and Pedro Ximenez.
An exciting regional re-mix is hitting shelves as Spain is introducing the world to a new take on retro regional favorites. Vintage is in as Spain is rediscovering old vineyards, old varietals, and the old wine ways and giving them new life.Sparking international interest in old favorites, here’s toa throwback to classic Spanish wines that anyone would be happy to throw back.
While Switzerland is known for many things, such as chocolate and watches, vodka is not usually one of their trademark products. However, Xellent Swiss Vodka is making a name for itself as the first and only Swiss vodka.
Leave it to an innovative country like Switzerland whose chocolate and watches set the standard for the rest of the world, to produce a vodka from grain. Prior to 1999, it was illegal to distill grains grown in Switzerland. Nevertheless, the tenacious Swiss ingenuity along with the inspiration from the family owned DIWISA (Distillery Willisau, SA), the law was changed, and DIWISA created the one and only Swiss vodka, Xellent.
A jack of all trades, Switzerland also produces some remarkable wines, although only about one percent of it is exported. Their wine would not be truly Swiss if it were not one of a kind; Switzerland has a variety of distinctive white wines, defined by unusual grape varieties that are adapted to the country’s climates and terroirs. The most widely known Swiss white comes from the Chasselas (Fendant) grape – Switzerland being the only country to have success with this grape. Switzerland also grows Petite Arvine, Cornalin and the Riesling crossbreed variety, Muller-Thurgau; however, during the last five years, these uncommon varietals have made room for more popular global varietals, including Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.