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Whirlwind world tour: A brief introduction to wines by country

County Info France


The most famous wine growing country and second largest producer of wine in the world, is dominated by red wine production. Whilst wine is produced all over France, Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Languedoc-Roussillon, Loire, Provence, Rhone and the Southwest are some of the most renowned regions: each with its own principal grape varieties, climate and vineyards differences that make this country a mosaic patchwork of production.

When we think of these vineyards, the romance of aquamarine blue skies, emerald, green vines in pristine rows and brilliant sunshine dominates, but the reality often involves harsh frosts, brownie, greyish earth and vines awaiting budbreak, and wind and rain that batter them. Nowhere more than France do we see the holy trinity of climate, terroir and winemaker produce such varying results, and appreciate both the art and science of wine production.

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Without doubt Austria’s history of wine production has been troubled by multiple wars, phylloxera and then the great ‘antifreeze’ scandal in 1985, which nearly bought the industry to the brink of ruin. Hundreds of thousands of hectolitres of wine were destroyed; established Merchants and Producers filed for bankruptcy (including those not directly involved); 95% of exports fell overnight and 325 charges were pressed with many guilty parties receiving jail sentences (and tragically one offender committing suicide). It is important to note though, that nobody actually died as a direct result of consuming contaminated wine, but the reputation and image of the industry was in tatters.  

Austria recovered from the scandal by creating the strictest wine law in the world. The banderol (whether paper label or screwcap) that we see on every bottle depict the red and white stripes of the national flag to serve as a guarantee that the wine has met federal quality controls, that the bottles are unable to be tampered with and traceability is in place.  Rest assured, with so much at stake, winemakers strive to produce the highest quality they possibly can and this consistency is the making of their modern day reputation.

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Italy is as famous for its accessible Prosecco and Pinot Grigio as it is for its legendary Barolo, Barbaresco and Super Tuscans. There are superb examples of the international grape varieties produced, however, Italy has more indigenous grape varieties planted here than any other country and as such, we are constantly surprised by the diversity of hidden gems we keep discovering.

Italy is a country where it is impossible to generalize about other than their love of football and pasta. This peninsular extends 750 miles through approximately 10 different degrees of latitude, where climate changes from Continental in north, to Mediterranean in the central and southern zones. Italy is still the leading producer of wine and it’s easy to understand why top quality fruit is in abundance this bountiful country.

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Famous for its fabulous fortified production of Madeira and Port, don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a one-trick pony! For a long time, Fortified production has overshadowed Portugal’s still wine production to international markets: however, change is afoot. Seriously impressive delicate bone dry whites and fruity reds compliment the bigger, complex reds produced from the grapes famously used in the production of Port. This is a country full of indigenous varieties creating impressive alchemy: make no mistake, Portugal is a rising star!

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The great Miguel Torres once wrote, ‘Spain is no longer a sleeping giant making outmoded over-oaked wines; the days of plonk and sangria are totally forgotten’. He absolutely nailed it! From the cool climate Galicia producing mineral, elegant whites to the warmer soils of Rioja and Ribera del Duero producing ripe red fruit and delivering rich, robust reds, there is an abundance of choice at all levels. Offering an array of styles and grape varieties, championing regional diversity and blending traditional and modern winemaking techniques, it’s easy to understand Spain’s popularity and why it’s a country worthy of further exploration. As the largest wine producing country in the world, there is brilliant value to be enjoyed.

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There can be no generalisations for a country that spans 3 time zones: everything about Australia is big: the vision, the scale of production and the personalities. Australia’s reputation established itself with ‘big’ heady Shiraz, Cabernet and Chardonnays: rich and easily accessible. These wines became instant classics, still adored today. 

As the next generation of winemakers established themselves, a gentle revolution has been driving forward styles, varieties and regions to choose from, refining quality and making the choice even bigger than ever before. However, climate change is having a big impact here: bushfires, drought and soaring temperatures are becoming commonplace, but if any country can battle these challenges and emerge bigger and stronger, it’s going to be Australia.

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New Zealand

With vineyards planted across the two islands, from subtropical Northland down to Central Otago, the most southerly vineyards in the world, there is diversity in their terroir, but they are united by their consistently high quality. Despite these vineyards running the length of 700 miles from north to south, no vineyard is more than 80 miles from the ocean and the maritime climate means long hours of sunshine, with nights cooled by sea breezes to retain freshness and concentration. 

Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay dominate production, accounting for over 90%, but there are also excellent Bordeaux Blends, Syrahs, Rieslings and Sparkling wines to discover. These cool-climate wines deliver elegance, complexity and value.

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South Africa

South African’s winemaking history can be traced back over 350 years. Historically the British were big importers in the 19th century (pre-Phylloxera) but it has only really been since the end of apartheid that there has been a renaissance of South African wine in the U.K. In the intervening 30 years, we have seen dramatic improvements in the quality of wines produced as new viticultural practices and winemaking technologies have improved. Moreover, the ancient and diverse soils, coastal climate and beautiful topography formed by coastal hills, inland valleys and the Cape mountains, have supplied bountiful natural resources for wine production. 

Expanding from production into tourism created more international interest and firmly put South Africa as a significant and accessible wine destination. Whilst old-vine Chenin Blancs, Cinsaults and Syrahs historically captured our hearts, vibrant Sauvignon Blancs, serious Cabernets and sensational Pinot Noirs are piquing our interest, the joy is still in the journey of discovery.

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North America

Anyone who says they have no bias is lying! We all have favourites and our own petty annoyances, and I’m afraid ours is against producers who insist on bottling their wines in ridiculously heavy bottles! We are far more interested in what’s inside, rather than the aesthetics of the bottle. The increased cost of shipping is another unnecessary cost to consumers and let’s not even start on the ecological argument. Unfortunately, so many American Producers are guilty of this practice and frankly, it’s a turn-off for us. We can forgive Au Bon Climat because the wines are consistently incredible and Jim was one of the most legendary winemakers and humanitarians, but we’re not so generous to anyone else! So presented below are wines which we believe represent value, variety and terroir.

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Whilst the latitude of Chile goes from 17 degrees south to 56 degrees south (this is the world’s longest country after all), the majority of wine production takes place between 32 and 38 degrees south.  To the west lies the Pacific Ocean, to the east lay the Andes: the valleys between are home to Chile’s viticulture, with topography and climate changing dramatically between neighbouring regions.  Whilst Spanish settlers introduced vines to Chile around the 1550s, the influence Chileans returning from their French travels remains today with the dominance of Bordeaux grape varieties. These scions grew on their ‘own root’ and subsequently became very valuable genetic material for the future with the devastation of Phylloxera in Europe in the late 1900s.  Even more fortuitous though, was the rediscovery of Carmenère which had all but disappeared from France. 

Today this grape variety thrives in Chile alongside other international varieties. The presence of the Andes offers a natural source of irrigation to the vineyards, thereby aiding vintage consistency. In such favourable conditions, immense investment in knowledge and technology has developed the wine industry dramatically which has been dominated by large corporations.  We are seeing the emergence of more artisan projects expressing their own styles and philosophies, but across the board, the wines are known for their freshness, fruitiness and outstanding value at all levels.

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There’s no denying, since exploding on the international market both Mendoza and Malbec still dominate. Malbec is the undisputed heavyweight of Argentina offering versatility, elegance and opulence, but there is life beyond Malbec: juicy Bonarda, fragrant Cabernet Franc and fruit forward Merlot are all commendable reds, with whites from delicate aromatic Torrontes and enchanting Chardonnays that continually surprise and delight.

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