Wine regions around the world produce an astounding array of unique tastes and flavors. Experts and those just beginning the path to understanding wines will benefit from developing an appreciation of location.
While it”s also important to cater to individual tastes and budgets, making a selection based on country and regional origins can provide helpful direction. In fact, developing an eye for reading labels is, for many, a preferred method of selecting wines.
The Importance of Understanding Wine Regions
Many factors can influence wine selection. A wine must fit the food served, whether it”s an appetizer, a meal or a dessert dish. Individual preferences also factor in, along with the wine buyer”s desired price range. For many, though, the background of the wine is just as important as any of these other elements. Regional variances can tell the real tale of taste, when dealing with quality wine.
“Terroir” is the French term that encompasses the entire growing environment, from the soil to the temperature. The word is not limited to describing French wine growing regions, however. Wine connoisseurs may use it to describe any wine growing environment, from Italian wine regions to the wine growing regions of Sonoma in California.
For the French, it”s also a protective word, because French wine growers are responsible for initiating laws guarding the origin and name of particular wines. For instance, a sparking wine is only a champagne when it originates from the Champagne region. However, no laws currently exist in the U.S. that limit the use of the name. As connoisseurs will adamantly state, no sparkling wine tastes exactly like champagne should unless it is the original.
Old World and New World Regions
When shopping by region, the choice between Old World versus New World wines takes center stage. In fact, selecting by region is an Old World tradition. European countries, including Spain and France, produce wines based on growing conditions, but also on technique.
Famous regions in France include:
- Loire Valley
The many regions of Spain include:
- La Mancha
Outside of Europe, New World regions produce wine more often by grape variety than by location. Notables include the United States and others outside of Europe, such as:
- New Zealand
- South Africa.
Regardless of whether you choose Old World or New, quality can vary significantly. The well known vineyards are typically more consistent, but off years can produce some less palatable tastes. An appreciation of the region, the maker and the year”s crop production must all combine when making a selection.
Specialties in Wine Regions
Understanding the type of grape production in which each region excels often provides insight into taste. That still leaves room for experimentation and you can always ask the local wine expert for new recommendations. Here are a few tips on regional specialties:
- Australia: Many great reds come out of Australia, due to the dry, hot climate in some growing regions. If you”re interested in particular wines from other areas, you can do an Internet search on “wine regions victoria,” for instance, to discover a wealth of information.
- California: In the U.S., California is the largest producer. The wine growing regions of Sonoma produce a wide array of high-quality grapes. Of course, Napa Valley wine regions, east of San Francisco, are just one large section of well-respected and quite prestigious wine growing estates. A robust Zinfandel is a natural choice when shopping for a California wine.
- Chile: Wines from any region of Chile may be from truly original vine stock. Vineyards in this country did not succumb to the phylloxera louse that wiped out other European regions in the mid-1860s.
- China: Chinese wine regions have been in production since the Shang Dynasty (16th century B.C.). The Chinese wines” high quality production is gaining international appeal; China has recently produced some award-winning Chardonnays as well.
- Germany: Go to Germany wine regions for historically popular whites, such as Riesling. You may also recognize its highly-regarded dessert wine, Liebfrauenmilch.
- South Africa: Purchase South African wines based on the maker and your choice in grape variety. Region is less important in this case.
- Spain: Home of many fine wines, Spain is perhaps best known for sherry, a fortified wine from the Jerez area.
- Portugal: Look to Portugal for one of the most famous fortified wines in the world, port, from the Oporto region.
In addition to countries at the forefront of production, others can also produce some surprisingly good tastes. Canada, for instance, is gaining favor for its newer “ice wine.” It”s also a good choice for Pinot Noir and Riesling, among others. Limited offerings from the Balkans are a preference for many who have experienced their flavors. British wine production lies mainly in the south with smaller wineries scattered throughout the rest of the country.
Labels and Regions
The label says it all. More specific details offered on a wine label often indicate higher quality. The grape, or varietal, listing means it is a predominant part of the ingredients. You”ll also look for the region as well as the specific vineyard. That shows the ingredients are grown locally, then bottled, although bottling is sometimes off-site from the vineyard. In addition, the term “estate bottled” means the entire process, from growing to bottling, is in one place.
Choosing a wine by region is, indeed, a helpful factor. For many, it all goes back to the “terroir,” which brings the flavors of a place directly to the palate.