Wine Information Vault – Wine Producing Regions

Wine Producing Regions by Martin Everett, Master of Wine

Argentina

Mendoza

Argentina’s most important wine region and at the heart of its wine making.  Situated high up in the eastern foothills of the Andes, with a continental, arid climate, watered by snow melt from the mountains via rivers and irrigation channels, and by boreholes.  There are several sub regions with Maipu, and Lujan which has a sub region, Lugan de Cuyo (located at an altitude of 8-1100 metres) amongst the most important.  However, the Valle de Uco, which lies at an altitude of 1200 metres and includes the Tupungato district, is also gaining prominence as a quality area.  The altitude of the vineyards is of significance and is often quoted on the label.  The main quality red grape used is Malbec (which Argentina has made its own) followed by Bonarda, but Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo are also cultivated.  The white varieties include Chardonnay and the aromatic Torrontés.  Wines from Argentina, especially those from Mendoza, are often of above average quality and are generally underrated.

Tupungato

The Tupungato vineyard area in Mendoza is the northernmost sub region of the Uco Valley.  At 1300 metres it lies in the rain shadow of the Andes, watered by snow melt from the mountains and by boreholes.  At this height, although the days are hot, the nights are cold which creates good conditions for vine growing.  This area is gaining a reputation for rich, warm Malbecs and excellent blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Chardonnays here achieve good levels of acidity and are especially elegant.

 

Australia

Adelaide Hills

Part of the lofty ranges east of Adelaide, Australia, this is a cool climate vine growing region with a pronounced thermal gap (difference between the temperature night and day).  Highly rated for the quality of its wines, especially Sauvignon, and also for its sparkling wines.  There is a strong Germanic culture here, as Europeans were early settlers.

Barossa Valley

One of Australia’s oldest and most prolific wine areas, lying about 35 miles north east of Adelaide. Originally established by European settlers, many from Germany.  Although higher altitudes are cooler, the climate is generally very warm and the vineyards are needful of irrigation; skilful wine making is required to manage such hot conditions.  Many international grape varieties are to be found here, notably Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Rhône Valley types such as Shiraz (Syrah), Grenache and Mourvedre.  A considerable number of Australia’s top wineries are situated in Barossa.

Clare Valley

One of Australia’s oldest wine areas which lies to the north of larger Barossa region, around 120 kms from Adelaide.  Vineyards are planted at altitudes of up to 500 metres where the days are hot but the nights cool.  Rain falls mostly in winter so irrigation is essential.  Known especially for excellent Riesling, but also for good Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, although many other varieties can be found there as well.  One of the best quality wine regions of South Australia.

Eden Valley

One of the group of valleys north of Adelaide that make up the Barossa Region, the Eden Valley produces some of the best wines in the area.  Famed for its Rieslings, although some excellent Shiraz is also made there.   It is more a cluster of hills than a valley, with a variety of micro climates that have much to do with altitude.  An excellent source of good Australian wine.

Gippsland Region

Lies only a few hours’ drive east of Melbourne, running down to the Tasman Sea.  Eastern Gippsland, which has a cool, maritime climate with good rainfall, is best known for ‘Burgundy’ varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). The southern region has a warmer, Mediterranean climate with Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz all cultivated there.  Due to its proximity to the big city, this is a popular destination for cellar door purchasing.

Great Western

Lies north west of Melbourne at the western end of the Great Dividing Range.  The vineyards were originally established by two Frenchmen but others followed and this is now a major region for sparkling wines.  Much of the fruit is sourced locally but so successful has this venture been that grapes have now to be brought in from elsewhere.  Spicy, warm Shiraz is also produced, some of it from pre-phylloxera vines.

Hunter Valley

This is not the oldest vineyard area in Australia but it is the one which first caught the eye of the overseas consumer and, by exporting its wines, it sent out a strong signal to the world that Australia was serious about making quality wine.  Situated in New South Wales, only about two hours north of Sydney, it is a popular tourist destination and the wines made in both the Upper and the Lower Hunter are ever popular.  Chardonnay and Semillon are the predominant white varieties; Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon lead the way amongst the reds.  Although rainfall is relatively high by Australian standards some irrigation is necessary.

Margaret River

Not only the best wine region in Western Australia, but one of the top wine growing areas in all Australia.  Lies at the south western tip of Western Australia where the climate, much influenced by the Indian Ocean, is Mediterranean.  Little irrigation needed as rainfall in most years is sufficient.    There has been heavy investment in the area over the years and many top wineries have a position here.  Most of the heavyweight international grape varieties are grown in the region, Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, and Shiraz amongst the reds, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon amongst the whites.  Those who resist the temptation to overproduce can make wines of world class; ‘Margaret River’ on the label is a badge of quality and reassurance.

McLaren Vale

Well placed, only a stone’s throw from Adelaide, South Australia, between the South Mount Lofty Ranges and the sea.  Due to the proximity to the mountains, vines are grown at different elevations and there is variation in soil types, so a grower has plenty of choice when making their final blend.  The climate is Mediterranean with long hot days and cool nights.  This long established wine region is best known for its rich, fulsome, high alcohol Rhône style reds, made from Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre.  Cabernet Sauvignon is cultivated as well, and there is some experimentation with Tempranillo, Sangiovese and other non-traditional varieties.  Good white wines are made from Chardonnay and Viognier, and even with Sauvignon Blanc.

Mornington Peninsula

An Australian wine region lying south of Melbourne with a cool maritime climate.  There are several different soils and the main vine varieties grown are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Proximity to Melbourne makes this a popular tourist destination and much of the wine made here is sold locally

New South Wales

An important Australian wine growing state, with a wide combination of different conditions for vine cultivation.  The Great Dividing Range exerts considerable influence on the climate in many areas, and the main soil types are clay, loam and sandstone.  Whilst the Hunter Valley (see separate section) is the most prominent quality wine producing district, Cowra (where it is warm), Mudgee (which is a cool region), and Orange (high altitude) all produce good Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, with Orange being known especially for Chardonnay.  Further south, Canberra is a new source for Rhône style wines made from Viognier and Shiraz.  The largest production, much of it bulk wines destined for Bag in Box, comes from the Riverina district and along the Darling and Murray rivers.  The quest for new wine producing regions in Australia continues and NSW is likely to be a part of this.

South Australia

An overarching entitlement covering any wine made in this vast region.  This ‘Australian Geographical Indication’, one of nine registered in the mid 1990’s, enables brands with some regional identity to be marketed at a low price.  This has proved of benefit to the producer and the consumer alike.

South Eastern Australia

An overarching entitlement covering any wine made in this vast region.  This ‘Australian Geographical Indication’, one of nine registered in the mid 1990’s, enables brands with some regional identity to be marketed at a low price.  This has proved of benefit to the producer and the consumer alike.

Victoria

An overarching entitlement covering any wine made in this large region.  This ‘Australian Geographical Indication’, one of nine registered in the mid 1990’s, enables brands with some regional identity to be marketed at a low price.  This has proved of benefit to the producer and the consumer alike.  Within Victoria, there are many different vine growing districts with Heathcote, Rutherglen and Yarra Valley considered as ‘Premium’ areas.  There are other, newer, up and coming wine localities such as Gippsland and Mornington Peninsula (see separate entries).

 

Austria

Burgenland

A large vine growing region to the east of Austria near the Hungarian border.  Best known for its sweet wines, many of which come from the shores of Lake Neusiedlersee where the misty conditions create ideal conditions.  Good reds are made from one of Austria’s indigenous red grapes, Blaufrankisch.

Kamptal

This northern Austrian valley is formed by the River Kamp, a tributary of the Danube, which gives the region its name.   The steep sandstones slopes, part of which is known locally as ‘Heiligenstein’ or ‘Holy Rock’ due to the intense heat that it creates, enables the grapes to ripen well, but at night the influence of river and cool breezes from the north allow some respite.  Riesling is widely planted and also Grüner Veltliner.  The valley broadens out as the river reaches the Danube and here there are some red grapes cultivated.

 

Chile

Casablanca Valley

Relatively new wine producing valley in Chile, just inland from Valparaiso.  Previously thought unsuitable for growing grapes due to its relatively cool climate, it has proved highly successful since planting first began in the early 1980’s.  Especially good for growing Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and also Chardonnay.  Cold mists and late frosts can be a problem but the rewards are proving worth the risk and the  shortage of water has been overcome by drilling bore holes.  Casablanca Valley is playing a key role in the movement to make better quality wines in Chile.

Colchagua Valley

A subdivision of Rapel, which in turn is a subdivision of Central Valley, Colchagua Valley follows the course of the Tinguiririca River as it drops down from the Andes and makes its way to the Pacific.  Fast gaining a reputation as one of Chiles best red wine areas, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Carmenère all grown here.  The fine Apalta region lies within Colchagua.

Central Valley

Chile’s most important and productive wine growing area which runs north to south starting just above Santiago. Much of the country’s easy drinking Merlot, which has done so much to endear Chilean wines to so many, is produced here.  The valley is broken up into the subdivisions of Maipo, the closest to Santiago and the most widely planted, largely with Cabernet Sauvignon; Rapel, known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere; Curico, for Chardonnay; and the most southerly, Maule (which has the highest rainfall) where the humble Pais is still cultivated although other varieties are gaining ground.  All these are further subdivided by valleys each with different micro climates many of which are driving Chile’s quest for quality.

Rapel

A major region in Chile’s Central Valley which is growing in importance.  It lies south of Santiago, below Maipo, and includes the sub-regions of Cachapoal and Colchagua (see separate section) which has Apalta within its confines.  Rich warm and generous Merlot, Cabernet, Carmenère, and Syrah are grown here with much success

 

England

Kent

Known as the ‘garden of England’, Kent is an expanding area for English wines.  A warmer climate and a varied terroir, plus enthusiasm has made this something of a success story. Biddenden and Tenterden are amongst the growing number of vineyard areas. Amongst the grape varieties cultivated are Seyval Blanc, Bacchus, Ortega and Reichensteiner for white wines, and Dornsfelder for red.  Kentish Sparkling wines are made mainly from the  Champagne classics, Chardonnay &  Pinot Noir, and they are becoming worthy rivals to their famous competitor across the channel.

Sussex

An expanding area for English wines, with the chalky soil of the South Downs especially suitable for making sparkling wines.  A warmer climate and increased know-how have contributed to the quality of the wines made here in recent years.  Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay are used to make many sparkling wines, with other varieties such as Huxelrebe, Reichensteiner, Müller-Thurgau, and Dornsfelder employed to produce still wines.

 

France

Alsace

Alsace, which lies in eastern France, is sheltered by the Vosges Mountains to the west and overlooks the Rhine to the east.  It has a dry, sunny climate and the wines, which are predominantly white, are named after the main grape varieties, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Sylvaner, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat. There are also some attractive, delicate, reds made from Pinot Noir.  Alsace has been bounced between Germany and France over the year and as a result its wine industry has a degree of German influence, the bottle shape being, for example, fluted as in Germany.  Good sparkling wine, Crémant d’Alsace, is made here.  Grand Cru’s come from single, named vineyards and must be made from either Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Riesling or Pinot Gris but, for the normal appellation, the name of the producer is usually of more significance than the name of the village or area.

Bordeaux

The largest and one of the most important wine growing regions of France, which lies to the south west, along the Gironde estuary.  There are many different styles of wine made here, red, dry and sweet whites, rosé, and sparkling.  Although there are other worthy regions, the main areas are the Medoc (which is subdivided into St Estephe, Pauillac, St Julien, and Margaux), Graves, and Sauternes; and on the right bank the principal communes are Pomerol and St Emilion. In between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers lies an area of large production, mostly appellation Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur.  Bordeaux’s red wines extend from humble a/c’s such as these to some of the great ‘Grand Crus’ which are renowned the world over.  The white wines, especially the intense botrytis affected sweet wines of Sauternes, cover a similar range of quality.  The principal red grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and a small amount of Malbec; the white varieties are mostly Sauvignon, Semillon and Muscadelle.  The top estates of the Medoc were classified in 1855 into 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Growths, and Crus Bourgeois with, illogically, Château Haut Brion, which lies in the Graves, being included as a 1st Growths.  St Emilion over the years has undergone several classifications but their top wines are now classified as St Emilion Grand Cru Classé, and St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé, Class A and B.  Pomerol, which includes many of Bordeaux’s most famous names, has never been ranked in this way.

Beaujolais

A large viticultural area south of Burgundy famous for its floral, aromatic, fragrant red wines.  The region is broken into two parts, the granitic hills of the north where the ‘Cru’ villages are to be found, and the flatter area south of Villefranche where the soil is richer and production higher.  The red grape in both regions is invariably Gamay.  Under the appellation rules, Beaujolais is classified as Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, or as one of the the top ranked Beaujolais Crus, which carries the village name.  These villages are: Brouilly, Côtes de Brouilly, St Amour, Fleurie, Chenas, Régnié, Chiroubles, Morgon, Julienas, and Moulin a Vent.  Generally Beaujolais is better consumed fairly quickly although some of the top Cru’s can keep and mature well.  The area’s best known but least inspiring wine, Beaujolais Nouveau, is now in decline.  There is some white Beaujolais, made from Chardonnay, to be found in the north of the region, on the border with Maconnais.

Burgundy

A large and renowned wine region on the eastern side of France which extends from Chablis to the north, down to Maconnais in the south.  The staple red grape is Pinot Noir and for white wines, Chardonnay, although this is virtually never appears on the label.  Aligoté is sometimes used for white wines but this must be declared, and there is some Sauvignon grown in Chablis.  At its heart is the Côtes d’Or (Côtes de Nuits and the Côtes de Beaune) which produces some of the finest and most eagerly sought after wines in the world.  The main villages in the Côtes de Nuits are Fixin, Gevrey Chambertin, Morey St Denis, Chambolle Musigny, Vougeot, Vosne Romanée and Nuits St Georges; and in the Côtes de Beaune, Savigny, Aloxe Corton, Pernand Vergelesses, Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, Puligny and Chassagne Montrachet, Auxey Duresses, St Aubin and Santenay.  Chablis has four main appellations, Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru, and Chablis Grand Cru. The appellations of the Côtes d’Or are divided into basic Bourgogne Rouge or Blanc, wines with a simple village A/C (Puligny Montrachet for example) and then 1er Crus and Grand Crus which carry the vineyard name also.  There is a strong negociant (merchant) system in place and often their name on the bottle is a badge of trust and honour, but many wines are sold under the growers own label.  Burgundy has a multitude of small, sometimes exquisite estates, and knowing who is who can be crucial.  The Chalonnais and the Maconnais are both significant sources of good value red and white Burgundy.

Cahors

A vine growing area in the south west of France in the Lot, lying to the west of  Bordeaux.  Red wine only, Malbec being the only permitted grape variety.  Known in the past as ‘the black wine of Cahors’, due to its deep colour and robust tannic structure, these days growers have bowed to the tastes of the modern consumer and are making wines which, if not exactly delicate, are softer and more welcoming.  Together with producers in Argentina (where Malbec is a star variety) they are doing much to build up Malbec’s reputation.

Côtes de Gascogne

Situated in the Gers, this is one of largest Vin de Pays areas in the south west of France.  The majority of which by far are white, mostly dry, but there are few sweet whites made also.  The white grape varieties are mainly Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Colombard, Ugni Blanc and Sauvignon.  The red varieties are Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.  This is Armagnac country and many growers distil much of the white wine they produce.  Côtes de Gascogne white wines are generally fresh and aromatic with pungent, citrus fruit flavour.

Champagne

The most fiercely protected wine name of all, ‘Champagne’ can be made only from vines grown on the chalky hillsides around Reims and Epernay in north eastern France.  The Montagne de Reims and the Vallée de la Marne are ideal for cultivating the two red grapes used, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, whilst the Côtes de Blancs is perfect for the production of the white variety employed, Chardonnay.   Following completion of the first fermentation, which takes place in the vat, the still wine is bottled and a second fermentation is induced; the wine is allowed to stay on the lees (sediment) for a minimum of 15 months (or more, the longer the better) after which it is skilfully removed without allowing any of the sparkle, which has been absorbed into the wine, to evaporate.  Champagne is born.  Non Vintage Champagne is a blend of several years, whilst Vintage (which must rest on the lees for at least three years) is the product of one year only.  Although some growers make and market their own wine, most is handled by the Champagne Houses large and small, many of whom have built up of international brands famous throughout the world.

Entre deux Mers

The large area between the rivers Dordogne and Garonne in the Bordeaux area.  Wines made here usually have the simple Bordeaux Appellation although there are some Bordeaux Supérieur’s.  Red wines are made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, whites from Sauvignon, Semillon, Ugni Blanc and Muscadelle. The Premières Côtes de Bordeaux (good reds, sweet and dry whites), a long narrow strip that runs from Bordeaux town to Cadillac, lies within this area but has its own a/c.  On the other side, across the Dordogne from St Emilion, lies the small a/c of Graves de Vayre.

Languedoc-Roussillon

A large wine producing area in the south of France which runs from the Camargue in the east round to the border with Spain.  In fact, they are two separate areas, with the vineyards of the Languedoc lying in the plains of the Mediterranean and those of Roussillon amongst the valleys of the Pyrénées.  The full gamut of wines are here, this is France’s bargain basement.  There are many different appellations, Côteaux du Languedoc, St Chinian, Faugères, Minervois and Corbières amongst them but the region’s main strength lies in its range of Vin de Pays (now becoming IGP’s, ‘Indication Géographique Protégée’) which offer the consumer increasingly good value.  For white wines, traditional vine types such as Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Maccabeo, and Grenache Blanc are cultivated, with Chardonnay, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc gaining ground; for reds, Carignan, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault are used, but also international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Limoux, which lies in the foothills of the Pyrénées, has made a name for itself for producing sparkling wines, using a combination of Mauzac (known locally as Blanquette) and Chardonnay.  The Vins Doux Naturels of Banyuls, Rivesaltes and St- Jean de Minervois are made from Muscat and are an enjoyable (and cheaper) alternative to the grander sweet wines from Sauternes.   Languedoc-Roussillon is France’s positive response to the increasing competition from low end quality wine from other parts of the world.

Loire Valley

One of France’s longest rivers, although the main vineyard areas only start just south of Orleans, continuing along its length until it runs out into the Atlantic at Nantes.  The climate is continental with the Gulf Stream warming the lower end; much north of here it becomes near impossible to make wine although English growers might dispute this.  There are a few delicate, fragrant, red wines produced along the Loire, but the area is best known for its whites.  At the upper end, Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé (together with their less illustrious neighbours, Quincy and Reuilly) are made from Sauvignon Blanc; near Tours, Vouvray and Montlouis, where the tufa chalk soil gives the wines exceptional longevity, make their wines from Chenin Blanc.  Close by, some of the finest red wines in the region are to be found, Bourgeuil, St Nicolas de Bourgeuil, and Chinon, all from Cabernet Franc.  Saumur has a long tradition of making sparkling wines from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but has one classy red, Saumur Champigny, made from Cabernet Franc.  There are some gentle dry whites and easy rosé wines (‘Cabernet d’Anjou’) made in Anjou, but its most original wines are the sweet Coteaux du Layon, Quarts-de Chaume, and Bonnezeaux, all produced from Chenin Blanc.  Just across the river lies Savennières where  long-lived generous white wines are made.   In the Loire Atlantique, the best Muscadet  comes from the Sèvre-et-Maine region, and is often left ‘sur-lie’ (on the lees) in order to extract as much flavour as possible from the residue of the fermentation.   Melon de Bourgogne, possibly a very distant relation of Chardonnay, is the grape variety used.  Other, more commercial, Muscadet comes from vineyard land that carries the lesser appellation of Coteaux de La Loire.

Medoc

The Medoc, which follows the Gironde estuary northwest from the town of Bordeaux, is in two sections.  The Bas Medoc, which lies to the north, is a good source of decent wine, but it is the southern part, the Haut Medoc, that is of most interest.  Thanks to its high concentration of top estates, or Châteaux, this must be the finest strip of vineyard land anywhere in the world.  The region is divided into communes, or villages, the most northerly of these being St Estephe.  Moving back towards Bordeaux, Pauillac comes next, then St Julien and on to Margaux; there are two further, lesser, districts, Listrac and Moulis, which lie well back from the river to the west.  Each has its own appellation, with its individual terroir and particular character.   Any land lying in between qualifies only for the simpler appellation, Haut Medoc.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot are the grape varieties used in the Medoc and, whilst each Châteaux will employ these in different proportions depending on their soil or their inclinations, these are common to all.  The way wine is made here is both traditional and forward looking, with ageing in oak for some period of time before bottling being commonplace.  The red wines of Bordeaux were classified in 1855 for the Paris exhibition of that year into 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Growths; with the exception of only one (Château Haut Brion, in the Graves) all who made the cut were from the Medoc.  Only one estate, Château Mouton Rothschild, has managed to get itself upgraded since then.  This classification is still valid today.

Margaux

Margaux, which includes Cantenac, Labarde, Soussans, and Arsac, is the most southerly of the Medoc communes and lies only a stone’s throw from Bordeaux.  There are several different types of soil, including some chalk and clay, but it is the large amount of gravel (which gives good drainage) that helps give the region its special character.  It is generally accepted that wines from Margaux are rounder and silkier than from other parts of the Medoc but, due to more sophisticated wine making and a changing climate, such distinctions are becoming less clear than they used to be.  There are more Cru Classé Châteaux in Margaux than in any other commune, many of which have vines in different areas to take advantage of the diversity of terrain.  The most important by far, however, is Château Margaux, one of the greatest of the 1st Growths.

Monbazillac

Sweet wine area in Bergerac in the Dordogne region in south western France, producing intense, sweet wines which, although they are less refined, are similar to Sauternes.  The grape varieties are Semillon, Sauvignon, and Muscadelle which is an important part of the blend.  Thanks to the early morning mists that rise from the river Dordogne and its tributaries in autumn, the grapes are affected by botrytis and are concentrated and luscious.

Moulis and Listrac

Two communes in the Medoc region of Bordeaux which are set well back from the Gironde estuary, to the west of St Julien and Margaux, on a gravelly plateau.  Both have their own appellation.  Wines from Moulis are considered to be the more refined, Listrac to be more robust and tannic.  There are no Cru Classé Châteaux in either commune, but there are several top Crus Bourgeois which carry a reputation akin to that of a good 4th or 5th Growth.  The grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and a little Cabernet Franc.  Both Moulis and Listrac are growing in reputation and offer good value.

Paulliac

Lying between St Estephe to the north and St Julien to the south, Pauillac is arguably the grandest commune in the Medoc, boasting no less than three 1st Growths, Châteaux Mouton Rothschild, Latour and Lafite.  The gravelly slopes which overlook the Gironde are perfect territory for the two main grape varieties grown here, Cabernet Sauvignon (which in Pauillac is the more important of the two) and Merlot.  In addition to the 1st Growths, there are many of Bordeaux’s finest estates within its borders.  Paulliac wines are generally amongst the richest and most opulent in Bordeaux.  Unusually for the Medoc, there is one outstanding dry white wine produced here, Blanc de Lynch Bages, which is made from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle.

Pessac-Léognan

Wine producing commune which lies in the Graves, just to the south of Bordeaux, on the left bank of the river Garonne.  Unusual for Bordeaux in that its white wines are almost as celebrated as it reds.  Château Haut Brion, the only estate classified as a 1st Growth in 1855 outside the Medoc, is situated here.  A largely forested area, the soil is, as the name ‘Graves’ would indicate, mostly gravel.  The red grape varieties used are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with some Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot; the white varieties are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.  The wines of Pessac-Léognan had their own classification in the 1950’s but this does not have the significance of the 1855 Classification in the Medoc.  Red Graves are rounded and generous, with firm but gentle tannins; the whites, the best of which spend some time in oak, are spicy, rich and aromatic and amongst the best dry white wines in France.

Pomerol

Although there is no official pecking order as in other parts of Bordeaux, the wines (exclusively red) of Pomerol have an aura and prestige that few can match.  The region, one of the smallest of the major Bordeaux viticultural areas, lies on the right bank of the Dordogne, to the north east of Libourne.  The vines, almost entirely Merlot, are planted on a gravelly plateau although there is some richer soil to the east near the border with St Emilion.   The wines made in Pomerol have a powerful, velvety opulence which mark them out from all others.  The greatest name by far here is Château Petrus, but production is so small and the demand so huge, that this is hard to come by.  The satellite appellation, Lalande de Pomerol, lies to the north of Pomerol and offers good value.

Provence

A large wine area in southern France where vines have been grown since Roman times.   Made up of several regions, of which Côtes de Provence and Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence are the most important. Thanks largely to the insatiable demands of the huge number of tourists, there is still more rosé made here than anything else, but this is gradually changing and good red and white wines are now more available that they used to be.  The main red grapes used are Mourvedre, Grenache and Cinsault, all of which can be used to make rosé, and amongst the whites, Viognier, Rolle and Ugni Blanc.  However, non-traditional varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah for reds, and Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon for whites are gaining ground.

Reims

The city at the heart of the Champagne district.  Many of the major Champagne Houses have their head offices here and store their wines in the miles of chalk tunnels that run below the streets, some of which date back to Roman times.  Only a few hours from the channel ports, Reims is an easily accessible destination for the serious Champagne lover.

St Émilion

A large and important wine producing district in Bordeaux, lying on the right bank of the Dordogne river.  There is a considerable variety of soils in the area but in general terms it divides into two main regions, the limestone terrain in and about the town of St Émilion and the gravelly plateau to the north west, near neighbouring Pomerol.  The grape types employed here are Cabernet Franc and Merlot, there is a little Cabernet Sauvignon grown but this is of relatively minor significance.  There have been various classifications of St Émilion wines over the years, with the most recent being undertaken in 2012.  This graded the top Châteaux as either Premiers Grand Crus Classés Class A or B, or as Grand Cru Classés.   At their best, the wines of St Émilion are deep and intense, with good levels of acidity, and tannins that are less austere than found in the Medoc.  The town itself, which is built on a hillside, is as pretty as any you will find in the Gironde and is a popular tourist destination.    The four satellite appellations to the north which carry the St Émilion name, Montagne, Puisseguin and Lussac and St Georges, offer good value, but they are quite separate regions.

St Estephe

Lies just above Pauillac and is the most northerly of the four main communes in the Medoc.  It may have fewer ‘Cru Classé’ Châteaux than its peers but what it lacks in numbers is in part compensated for by prestige – Châteaux Montrose, Cos d’Estournel, and Calon Segur are all situated there.  The soil is similar to other parts of the Medoc, gravel with some clay, and its climate is dominated by exposure to the Gironde.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the most important grape variety followed by Merlot, with many owners adding some Cabernet Franc and a little Petit Verdot.  The wines of St Estephe are generally accepted as being fleshy and full but  more austere and longer lived than those from the communes to the south.

St Julien

The smallest of the top four Medoc communes, St Julien lies below Pauillac, with Margaux lying to the south although there is the buffer zone of Cussac in between.  There are many top Cru Classés here, including some illustrious names such as Ducru Beaucaillou, Gruaud Larose and the three Leovilles, Lascases, Barton and Poyferré.  The wines may be less powerful than those of Pauillac but they are elegant, charming and generous and, anyway, in this modern age, such distinctions are becoming somewhat blurred.  The soil is the gravel typical in this central part of the Medoc, and the grape varieties grown are the classic mix of Cabernet Sauvignon (the largest component in most blends), Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a little Petit Verdot.

Sauternes

A sweet wine area which lies to the south east of Bordeaux on the left bank of the Garonne, near Langon.  The region is made up of five communes including Sauternes, the others being Barsac (the only one other than Sauternes allowed to use its own name), Bommes, Fargues and Preignac.  The grape varieties are Semillon which is normally the largest part of any blend, Sauvignon and Muscadelle.  The autumn mists rising from the River Ciron encourage the growth of Botrytis cinerea, or ‘noble rot’, on the grapes which penetrates the skins allowing the moisture within to evaporate thus concentrating the sugars.  At the same time it imparts its own inimitable flavour.  The yields are, as a consequence, low but the wines have a ravishing sweetness matched by a ripe and exhilarating acidity.  There are no other wines that can match them anywhere else in the world.  The wines of Sauternes were part of the Classification of 1855 (see under ‘Medoc’ for details of this) and include one First Growth, Château Y’Quem.

Côteaux du Verdon

This interesting mountainous region, best known locally for the Gorges du Verdon, lies in the hills some seventy miles behind St Tropez.  The climate is Mediterranean but, the thanks to the cooling breezes created by the mountains, the nights are cool.  Maison Louis Latour has planted vineyards in this area and is having great success with Pinot Noir.

Vin de Pays (VDP)

A French wine classification between Appellation Controlée and Vin de Table.  This has now been largely replaced by the new entitlement ‘Indication Géographique Protégée’ (IGP) although growers can decide for themselves which one they opt for.  VDP’s or IGP’s can be found all over viticultural France but there are more in the south, especially Languedoc-Roussillon, than anywhere else.  The looser framework allows growers greater flexibility, and the opportunity to grow grape varieties not permitted under the AC regulations.  There can be situations, therefore, where the lesser IGP’s can be superior to the AC wines from the same region.

 

Germany

Mosel Valley

The Mosel valley has a surprisingly warm, continental, climate for a region so far north. Reflected heat from both the river and from the porous slate in which the vines are planted helps ripen the grapes making this one of the finest of all German viticultural regions.  From Trier to Koblenz, where the river enters the Rhine, vines cling to the steep slopes but it is in the middle section, where the river twists and turns back on itself like a demented serpent, that the best Mosel wines are made; the most desirable sites are those which have a south facing aspect, attracting the most sunshine.  So steep are the hillsides that the terraced vineyards have all to be tended by the growers own hand, no mechanisation is possible.  Berncastel-Kues and Piesport are amongst the best known villages and are famous for their wines; however both lend their names to Grosslagers, which cover large areas and can sometimes produce wines of dubious quality.  In this part of the valley, Riesling reigns supreme, but on the lower Mosel, below Cochem, the higher yielding Müller Thurgau and Kerner are also used.  Wines made along the two tributaries that enter the Mosel above Trier, the Saar and the Ruwer, make excellent wines in fine years but can be a touch  lean in lesser vintages.  At their glorious best, wines from the Mosel are floral, zesty and intense, with wonderful levels of fresh, steely, acidity.

 

German wine labels give a lot of information but can be confusing. The main quality levels are as follows:

Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (Qba): a ‘quality’ wine from a large named wine region.

Prädikatswein (QmP): quality wine which meets the highest criteria

Kabinett: an added distinction, may be dry or semi dry

Spätlese: late harvest, with more natural residual sugar

Auslese:  late harvest, high levels of natural sugar, hand selected bunches, sometimes botrytis affected

Beerenauslese: made from very ripe hand selected berries, often botrytis affected, intense and sweet

Trockenbeerelauslese: made from hand selected, shrivelled berries, often botrytis affected.  Very intense and sweet

Eiswein: ice wine i.e. from berries that have been frozen on the vine, giving tiny yields but great concentration and sweetness

Trocken: dry wine

 

Pfalz

A major wine region in Southern Germany which follows the Haardt Mountains (a continuation of the Vosges Mountains in France) along the famous Deutsche Wein Strasse.  Although white wines are in the majority, thanks to the warm climate in the Pfalz, there are many red wines made as well.  The main white grapes are Riesling and Müller-Thurgau, with red wines being made predominantly from Spätburgunder and Dornsfelder.  Once known as the Palatinate, the main centres for Pfalz wines are Kallstadt, Bad Durkheim and Deidesheim.

Rheinhessen

Bordered to the north and east by the Rhine and to the west by the Nahe, Rheinehessen is Germany’s largest wine producing region.  The climate is mild and the soils are varied, allowing for distinct variation between one area and another.  Whilst much of the production is somewhat lack lustre and ends up as Liebfraumilch or branded, there are centres of excellence too. At best, wines from the Rheinhessen are full of fruit with a gentle acidity.  Those from Bingen, which lies on the Nahe just across the Rhine from Rüdesheim, are well balanced, so, too those from Nierstein (although the regional bereich Niersteiner is not always amongst them). The wines made along the Rhine at Oppenheim, Nackenheim and Worms can also be of fine quality.  The main white grape varieties are Müller Thurgau (which is the most widely planted), Riesling and Sylvaner, with Dornsfelder for red wine.  Many growers are reducing yields, with a corresponding uplift in quality, aware that this is where the future lies.  For information on wine labels, see ‘Mosel’.

Rheingau

This is the smallest of the Germany’s wine districts, but it is arguably the most majestic, with Rheingau being home to several estates of world renown.  The region lies along the Rhine from Lorch in the west round to Mainz in the east.  The vines lie in two parallel tiers, one fronting onto the river, the other set back on the hillsides, under the protection of the Taunus Mountains.  The soil here is ideal for Riesling which is by far and away the most planted variety.  Wines from the Rheingau are firm, full bodied, with good levels of acidity and, at best, they develop in the bottle extremely well.

 

Hungary

Tokaj

A vine growing region in the far north east of Hungary, famous for the sweet wine made there, Tokaji Aszú.  The grapes used are mainly Furmint, with some Harslevelu and a little Muscat.   To make this, the grapes are allowed to stay on the vine for as long as possible, sometimes as late as November, to concentrate the sugar, before being fermented to become the ‘base’ wine.  Any that become desicated by Botrytis cinerea, or noble rot, are known as ‘Aszú’  and are put into vats separately, where they are crushed into a paste.  The wine maker adds some of this paste to the base wine and a further, slower, fermentation takes place.  The quantity of Aszú fruit that is added is measured in ‘Puttonyos’ (literally ‘baskets’ or ‘hods’) with the number, 3 ‘Puttonyos’, 4 ‘Puttonyos, and so on, indicating the sweetness of the wine.   There are some dry and semi-dry natural wines made in Tokaj also.

 

Italy

Abruzzo

An Italian wine region with many DOC’s (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) which runs down from the Appenines to the Adriatic.  Significant in terms of production, and best known for its red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (one of Italy’s most exported DOC’s) and its white Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.  Wines produced here are generally well made rather than spectacular.

Alto Adige

Lying to the North East, close to the border with Austria, this is Italy’s most northerly wine region.  Thanks to its history, many of the vine types, especially on the higher slopes, are of German origin such as Riesling, Sylvaner and Müller Thurgau although further down, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon are more common.  Red varieties include Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet.  The two main DOC areas are Sudtirol and Trentino.

Campania

An ancient wine area in southern Italy, near Naples.  Traditional grape varieties here give the region its character and strong regionality.  The most important red is Aglianico, used to make the robust dark wines of Taurasi and Avellino, with the two most important whites being Fiano (Fiano di Avellino) and Greco (Greco di Tufo).  Key factors in this fascinating  region are the volcanic soil and the hot sunshine, which is alleviated to some extent by breezes from the Tyrrhenian sea.

Emilia- Romagna

Large wine area in North Central Italy sprawling across the country from west to east, with the city of Bologna more or less in the middle.  As its name suggest, it falls into two parts, Emilia to the west and Romagna, which runs down to the Adriatic, to the east.   Generally this is a region more about quantity than quality.  Sparkling Lambrusco is Emilia’s most celebrated wine ( the sweet variety is the one most exported, but there is a dry version too), whilst in Romagna light fresh whites are made from Trebbiano and zesty reds from Sangiovese.  Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet are making a little headway, so for the future, who knows?

Langhe

A hilly wine growing district to the south and east of the river Tanaro, in Piedmont, Italy, just below Alba.   Nebbiolo is the most important red variety by far, producing some of Italy’s most famous wines from the villages of Barolo and Barbaresco.  Other traditional red grape varieties here are Barbera and Dolcetto.  Langhe lends its name to non-traditional vine types (‘Langhe Cabernet Sauvignon’ and ‘Langhe Merlot’ for example) but these qualify only for a lower DOC.  Although principally a red wine area some good whites are produced, using Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Piemonte

The Piemonte wine region lies to the south of the department, around Alba in the foothills of the Alps; there are more DOC and DOCG wines made here than in any other part of Italy.  The villages of Barolo and Barbaresco, which lie amongst the Langhe hills, produce some of Italy’s finest red wines, using Nebbiolo, a fine red variety that fares particularly well in Piemonte.   Barbera and Dolcetto make a lighter, fresher style of red wine.  The best vineyard sites are amongst the hillsides, with Nebbiolo favouring the sunnier slopes and Dolcetto and Moscatel enjoying the cooler aspects.  The region is well known for its sparkling wine, Asti Spumante, which is made from Moscatel.

Puglia

Puglia runs along the Adriatic coast at the extreme south eastern end of Italy.  The most southerly section, the Salento region, forms the heel of Italy’s boot and is the source of the region’s best wines.  The climate is extremely hot and this is almost entirely red wine country, with the traditional local varieties being Negroamaro and Primativo.  These make dark, deep, full bodied rustic wines.  Further north, Sangiovese and Montepulciano, which are widely planted elsewhere, make lighter, less distinguished wines.

Sicily

Once best known for its fortified wine, Marsala, although this is now in steep decline. The majority of wines made in this, the largest of all the Mediterranean islands, are white, produced from a local variety, Catarratto, much of which is used for blending elsewhere.  Some of the best whites, however, are to be found in the west of the island from Inzolia.  The most successful red wines are made from Nero d’Avola, these are deep, robust and powerful and typically Sicilian.  There have been some attempts to grow Chardonnay and other international varieties but so far these have not had great success.  Many growers, rather than take advantage of the DOC, opt instead for the simpler IGT which gives them more flexibility.

Trentino

The southern half of the Trentino- Alto-Adige district which lies in north central Italy.  Trentino follows the Adige River valley south from Mezzocorono to Avia, a steep sided area which creates its own micro-climate.  There are too many vine varieties cultivated here to mention but, not surprisingly in view of the area’s proximity to Austria, many are of German origin.  However, Trentino Rosso is made normally from Cabernet (Sauvignon and/or Franc) with Trentino Bianco using Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco.

Tuscany

Lies in central Italy along the Tyrrhenian coast and back up into the foothills of the Apennines.  Famous for Chianti and Chianti Classico, both made from Sangiovese.  Two other top wines here are Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Brunello di Montalcino both made also from Sangiovese, Brunello being the local name for this variety.  So called ‘Super Tuscans’ are produced in the coastal districts of Bolgheri (Sassicaia led the way here), and Val di Cornia, from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Originally these were IGT’s since the grapes used were not permitted under the DOC, but now they have both achieved DOC status.

Umbria

Largely a white wine area, lying amongst the rolling hills in the centre of Italy, between Rome and Florence.  Orvieto and Orvieto Classico, which are based on Trebbiano, are the best known white wines.  There are two fine DOCG reds, Montefalco which is produced from Sagrantino, and Torgiano Rosso Riserva which is made from Sangiovese and Canaiolo.

Venezie

This large Italian IGT (Indicazione Geographica Tipica) takes in the regions of Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia.  Although there are others, it is famous for only one wine, Pinot Grigio, which accounts for the majority of the wine made under this classification.

Veneto

A large vine growing district in north eastern Italy. It lies in two parts, around Verona and Lake Garda, and then Conegliano, which is further east above Venice.  Verona and Lake Garda are home to two of Italy’s best loved wines, easy delicate white Soave, made from Garganega and Trebbiano, and the cherry red, aromatic, Valpolicella which is made from Corvina.  The rich, red Amarone produced in Valpolicella is made from grapes which are dried, and then fermented out.  Bardolino lies along the eastern shores of Lake Garda and produces lively, light bouncy reds, and a pale rosé, Chiaretto del Garda; Lugana, which lies to the south of the lake, makes pleasant dry whites.  The Conegliano region produces the fine DOCG Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene which is a cut above the standard offering.

New Zealand

Central Otago

New Zealand’s most southerly wine area which is relatively new, but growing fast.  Shielded by mountains, it has a continental climate with good diurnal temperature variation.  These are ideal conditions for Pinot Noir, which accounts for most of the planting.  Other varieties are beginning to be cultivated, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer amongst them.   The region is broken up into several sub regions, each having its own micro climate with many being subject to severe frosts.  Picking starts in mid to late April, later than the warmer regions further north.

Gisborne

Lies along the Pacific coast in the north east of North Island, New Zealand, just above better known Hawkes Bay.  The region is also known as Poverty Bay has a maritime climate, where the sea breezes help to preserve acidity.  Gisborne has built a reputation for fine Chardonnay and ‘aromatics’ such as Gewürztraminer, Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris and Viognier.  Generally considered a white wine area, but some good reds are produced  from Merlot and Malbec.  Often referred to as the ‘fruit bowl’ of New Zealand.

Marlborough

New Zealand’s most famous wine region which lies to the north east at the top of South Island.  The soil here is varied, with the best vineyards being planted on the stony, gravelly terrain, much favoured due to its good drainage.  The climate is Mediterranean, with hot days being followed by cool nights, helped by the regions proximity to the sea.  Without irrigation, the area would not have got off the ground as far a vine growing is concerned, as rainfall is sparse.  Sauvignon Blanc is the most important grape variety by far and has not only established Marlborough as a top wine producing area in its own country but has flown the flag for New Zealand wines as a whole.  Other white varieties do well, too, Chardonnay being the next in line followed by Riesling.  More Pinot Noir is being planted and this could be another success story for the region.

Waipara

A developing wine area just north of Canterbury, in South Island, New Zealand.  The valley has three districts, the valley floor, the hillsides and the river banks, each with its own ‘terroir’.  Autumns are hot but the nights are cool and this southerly district has good conditions for growing Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, and also Pinot Noir.

North America

Anderson Valley

An AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the Coastal region of Mendocino County, California.  Barely 15 miles long it runs along Anderson Creek, and other tributaries of the Navarro River, from Yorkville through Boonville to Navarro.  Noted for its Alsace varieties such as Gewürztraminer, but also for Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Good sparkling wines are made here. Favoured by many prominent wine winegrowers, including Louis Roederer.

Alexander Valley

A Californian AVA in Sonoma Valley, which runs north of Healdsberg towards the border with Mendocino County.  Influenced by the Pacific Ocean and the Russian River, this is a warm area although the nights are cool.  One of the largest and most highly planted areas in Sonoma, Alexander valley is suited to many different grape varieties but is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sangiovese.  The wines have a reputation for warmth and charm rather than longevity.

California (see under ‘Countries’)

Central Coast

A large Californian AVA (American Viticultural Area) which runs from Santa Barbara in the south up to San Francisco Bay.  It encompasses several other smaller AVA’s, notably Santa Barbara, Monterey and Santa Clara County.  Chardonnay looms large, accounting for around 50% of the fruit produced, but there are many other varieties grown there as well.

Napa Valley

America’s most prestigious AVA, which lies in California, north of San Francisco.  Produces some of the best Cabernet and Chardonnay in the world which are serious rivals to those from France.  Runs north to south, with the southern, open end, being cooler due to its proximity to the ocean and the northern, closed end, being much warmer.  Within the valley there is a wide variety of soils, giving the vine grower plenty of choice.  In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, many other different vine types are cultivated here including Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel.  The region is broken into a number of sub-regions, of which Stags Leap (southern end, Cabernet and Merlot), Oakville (top region, with some of the USA’s grandest wine estates situated here), and Rutherford (some of the Valley’s best Cabernet’s) are amongst the most prominent.

Oregon

Oregon lies north of California and south of Washington State.  It has a long established wine industry and numerous AVA’s of which the best known is Willamette.  The climate, which is greatly influenced by the Pacific, is relatively cool allowing the cultivation of Pinot Noir (for which Oregon is best known) Chardonnay, Merlot and Riesling.  There are many others and Oregon has much to offer.

Sonoma

One of the most important vine growing areas in California, lying north of San Francisco between Mendocino County and Napa Valley.  There are sixteen separate AVA’s here, each with its own climatic conditions ranging from warm to cool, each making wines with their own distinctive character.  The main grape varieties in Sonoma are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon , Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.   The potential for making good sparkling wines in the Carneros AVA was recognized some time ago and several Champagne Houses, Moët and Chandon and Taittinger amongst them, have bought land there and are making Champagne style wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Santa Barbara

A Californian wine region that lies along the coast south of San Francisco.  The climate and terrain is varied, with some valleys lying west to east channelling breezes from the Pacific Ocean.  There are five separate AVA’s within Santa Barbara County, each with its own micro climate.  With some areas being warm and some cooler, a wide variety of grape types can be cultivated with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc amongst the whites, and with the reds including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Grenache.

Yorkville Highlands, North America

An AVA lying to the south of Mendocino County in California.  The days are hot and dry but, due to the elevation, the nights are cool.  The poor soils have good drainage forcing the vine to dig deep to find water, so the grapes have great concentration.  Amongst the red varieties grown, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir are particularly suited to these conditions, and amongst the whites, Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Viognier succeed especially well.

Portugal

Douro

The vineyards along the Douro River in Portugal (which starts life in Spain as the Duero) are best known for producing Port.  The region lies in three parts, Baixo Corgo (below the Corgo, a tributary of the Douro), Cima Corgo (above the Corgo) where most of the steeply terraced port vineyards are to be found and where much port is made, and the Douro Superior, the hottest section which runs up to the Portuguese border and is a potential new source for wine.  Red table wine is made from some of the same grapes as Port, mainly Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and white wine from Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, and Rabigato.  Port vineyards are usually on schist, whilst granitic soils suit table wine better.  International varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay can be found but they do not qualify for the DOC.

Spain

Bierzo

A little known Spanish DO to the north west of the province of Leon which has many hillsides and valleys with microclimates that are suitable for grape growing.  The area had fallen into decline but is now enjoying something of a renaissance, thanks to the sparkle and energy of a group of enterprising vine growers.  The permitted red varieties are Mencia and Garnacha but, subject to authorisation, Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon can be planted on an experimental basis.  On the same understanding, white varieties such as Malvasia, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer can be experimented with.  Wines from Bierzo are part of the new wave of modern Spanish winemaking.

Castilla e León

Largest autonomous wine region in Spain, bordered to the west by Portugal and running virtually from the north coast down to Madrid.  The climate is harsh with hot summers and extremely cold winters.  The main wine making areas are Ribuero del Duero which produces fine reds and is covered elsewhere; Rueda which is making better and better whites from Viura, Sauvignon, and Verdejo; Bierzo (covered elsewhere); and Toro, which lies near the Portuguese border where it produces strong, rich, reds.

Campo de Borja,

A small up and coming area, south east of Navarra between the Ebro valley and the mountains. The climate is continental with some Mediterranean influence.

Red wines are made mostly from Tempranillo and Garnacha, but also Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Reds are warm and easy with plenty of ripe fruit.  There are a  few whites produced from Macabeo (Viura) and Muscatel.  There is an influential co-operative system here which has done much to develop the region as a whole.

Emporda

A small wine area lying in the far North East of Spain, in Cataluña.   The DO (Denominacion de Origen) is split is into two parts, Alt  Emporda, which lies right on the French border and is in effect a continuation of Roussillon, and the Baixa Emporda below it.  Both regions have a Mediterranean climate.  Red wines prevail but good rosé and white wines are also produced.  The main permitted red varieties are Garnacha and Cariñena (Carignan), permitted white varieties are Macabeu, Malvasia and Muscat but there are others.

Jerez

Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and Puerta de Santa Maria lie at the heart of Spain’s most celebrated wine area, the Sherry district.  The chalky soil in this hot, dry south western corner of Spain is ideal for the cultivation of the grapes used to make sherry, Palomino, Pedro Ximenez and Mucat of Alexandria.  Once the fermentation has ceased the wines are fortified with grape spirit and the casks are then selected according to the style for which they are intended.  Wines destined to become Fino are encouraged to grow ‘Flor, a yeasty type of growth that covers the surface of the wine protecting it from the air, whilst at the same time imparting a special and unique character.  Those which are to become Oloroso are allowed some contact with oxygen which helps to give them their warm, ‘nutty’ flavour.  All sherry is then matured through the solera system, a series of casks, or ‘scales’, of different ages.  A small amount of wine is drawn off the oldest scale, which is then replaced with wine taken from the next oldest with that in turn being refreshed, and so on down the line.  Each top up quickly assumes all the characteristics of its new environment and in this way, a continuous stream of mature wine is maintained.  The basic types of sherry are Fino and Manzanilla, which are dry; Amontillado (Finos which have after a period of time have lost their Flor) which are medium dry; and Olorosos which are naturally dry but most often are blended before sale with sweet wine made from sun dried Pedro Ximenez.  These are often referred to as ‘Cream Sherry’.  There is a rarer style, Palo Cortado, which starts life as a Fino but, having lost its Flor, begins to develop as an Oloroso.

Navarra

This large Spanish DO starts just to the east of Rioja and is sandwiched between the River Ebro to the south and the foothills of the Pyrenees to the north.  The region is divided into five sub regions of which the most important, in terms of production, is Ribera Baja.  Traditionally, this was an area for Garnacha and Tempranillo, but now increasingly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are being cultivated with excellent results.  As with Rioja, much of the red wine spends some time in oak.  White wines are in the minority, but they are gaining a reputation for quality.  The main white varieties are Viura, Garnacha Blanca, Chardonnay and Malvasia.

Penedès

One of Spain’s most important and enterprising wine regions which rises up from the Mediterranean coast, just to the south of Barcelona.  Best known for its sparkling wines (Cava) which are made from Chardonnay, Xare-lo and Parellada.   Now gaining a reputation for table wines made from international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay in addition to traditional types such as Tempranillo, Garnacha and Parellada.   Riesling is having some success on the upper slopes of the Alta Penedès.

Priorat

An old Spanish wine growing area revitalised, Priorat lies up in the hills behind Tarragona.  The slate soil is poor, rainfall is slight, leading to low yields, but the vines grow deep and produce rich full bodied, dark, high quality red wines.  The grape varieties are Garnacha, and some old Cariñena (Carignan) but Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah are cultivated also.  Good white wine is produced from Garnacha Blanca, Macabeo and Chenin Blanc.

Rias Baixas, Spain

The Rias Baixas wine region lies on the far north western coast of Spain.  This is a white wine area with the main, but not the only, grape variety being Albariño.  There are several sub-regions of which the best is Val do Salnes which is right on the coast.  The wines are fresh, with good acidity and plenty of zesty fruit.

Rioja

Spain’s top wine producing area and the only one to achieve DOCa (Denominacion de Origen Calificada).  Lies in northern Spain, along the river Ebro, protected to the north by the Cantabrian Mountains.  There are three main regions, Baja Rioja the warmest which lies down river south of Logrono, Alta Rioja, a cool region which lies to the west, at a high elevation, near Haro, and Alavesa, also a cool district near Haro.  Although this is predominantly red wine country using mostly Tempranillo but also some Garnacha and Mazuelo, many growers produce white wine as well, made from Viura (Macabeo).  Most of the large Bodegas buy in grapes, but some of the smaller producers run their estates along the lines of a French Château, growing their own fruit.  There are several styles of Rioja, a basic level which has little or no wood ageing; Crianza, which spends a year in oak and then one year in bottle; Reserva, one year in oak and the two years in bottle; and Gran Reserva, two years in oak and then three more in bottle before being sold.

Ribera del Duero

One of Spain’s finest red wine districts, which rivals Rioja.  Lies on a plateau in the Castilla y Léon district in northern Spain with the town of Valladolid at its western end. The area is cut in half by the river Duero which becomes the Douro down river when it enters Portugal.  The summers are hot and but the nights are cool and vines are remarkably successful here.  Red wines must be made mostly from Tempranillo (the local name for this is Tinto Fino) although Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec are permitted in small quantities to make up the blend.  The best areas lie around Peñafiel and Pesquera, where intense, rich and tannic wines are produced.  Two outstanding estates, Vega Sicilia and Pingus, have done much to publicise Ribera del Duero around the world.  The system here is much like Rioja in that many estates buy in their grapes and the wines are graded into Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva.

Valencia

A Spanish vine growing DO which lie inland behind Valencia.  Most of the easy drinking reds are made from Monastrell, but Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo can also be found here.  Merseguera and Malvasia make good if not exceptional white wines.  Some Cava is produced, and there are some luxuriously sweet dessert wines, made from Muscat of Alexandria, in the Turia Valley.

South Africa

Franschhoek

One of South Africa’s oldest wine valleys, farmed originally by the Huguenots.  Lies in the south eastern corner of Paarl, sheltered by the Groot Drakenstein and Franshhoek mountains.  A cool climate region partly due to altitude, partly due to being in the shadow of the mountains, the valley is home to some of South Africa’s finest estates.  Full bodied reds made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, and fragrant, rich whites from Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.  Some sparkling wine is made here also.

Paarl

One of South Africa’s best known and longest established wine regions which lies in the Cape just to the north of Stellenbosch.  The summers are hot and rainfall is relatively low, so some irrigation is required.  The main red grape varieties grown are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, and Shiraz, and the white varieties are Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay.  The wines made here are generous, intense and show plenty of varietal characteristics.

Robertson

One of the best districts within the Breede River Valley region, South Africa, producing both red and white wines, mainly from Chardonnay and Shiraz respectively.  Summers are hot and so irrigation is required, with the Breede river providing a good source of water.  Many good estates, and some co-operatives, are based here, a sure sign that the region has been noticed as one of potential.

Stellenbosch

Together with Paarl, Stellenbosch forms the backbone of the South African wine industry.  The climate is largely Mediterranean with hot summers and wet winters, but two mountain ranges, Simonsberg and Helderberg, offer varied terrain and local microclimates which allow diversity of planting.  The staple red varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinotage and Shiraz, and the most widely cultivated whites are Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc.  Wines from Stellenbosch are generally concentrated, gentle and well balanced

 

References

In preparing these notes I have used the following for reference:

The Oxford Companion to Wine, Jancis Robinson
The World Atlas of Wine, Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson
(the above must be the two best books on wine ever written and indispensable to all interested in wine, amateur and professional alike)
Sothebys World Wine Encyclopedia, Tom Stevenson
Wine Grapes of Australia, Kerridge and ANtcliffe
Cépages et Vignobles de France, P Galet
Bordeaux, Robert Parker
Burgundy, Robert Parker
Madeira, Rupert Croft-Cooke
Port, Wyndham Fletcher
German Wines and Vines, Alfred Langenbach
The Great Wines of Germany, S F Hallgarten and André Simon
Sherry, Julian Jeffs
The World Wide Web – official and other sites

 

 

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