Argentina

With the popularity that Malbecs from Argentina enjoy today, it is almost impossible to believe that wines from Argentina were largely unavailable only 20 years ago! Although Argentina has just recently burst onto the international wine scene, the country has quietly been producing quality wines for centuries–since Spanish settlers brought vine cuttings to South America in the 1500s. Quality wine production has steadily expanded throughout Argentina ever since.

Winegrowing regions in Argentina lie just to the east of the imposing Andes in the rain shadow of the mountains. Argentina’s wine regions are some of the most unique in the world: located in a desert, irrigated by Andean snowmelt, and with many vineyards planted at dazzlingly high elevations. The two most notable regions are located in the provinces of Mendoza and Salta. Mendoza lies just east of Santiago, Chile, and it is undoubtedly the capital of Argentina’s wine production. Salta is farther north — just south of the border with Bolivia. The latter region produces a large proportion of Argentina’s quality white wines.

The grape varieties grown today in Argentina certainly reflect the country’s European heritage. The most popular and most widely planted grape is Malbec; which originally hails from southwestern France. The country also grows a large amount of Bonarda, which was brought to the country by Italian settlers. Finally, the aromatic white grape grown in Argentina called Torrontés is a hybrid of Muscat, and vine cuttings brought by Spanish settlers to the area. In recent years, Argentina has started growing internationally popular grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. While the reds from Argentina are certainly great, we will leave you with this pointer: don’t pass over the whites and rosés because you will miss some fun surprises and great values!

Australia

If you’ve ever flown to Australia, it’s easy to see why it was chosen to be a penal colony: isolation. Once you arrive, the feeling is apparent in many parts of the country as you notice camping supply stores listing latitude and longitude coordinates alongside their street address. With that in mind, isolation must make you thirsty; as Australia began producing wine just 60 years after the British colonized the continent.

With one of the world’s most unforgiving desert climates taking up the center of the continent, wine production remains close to the coastal regions and temperate areas located in the southern half of the country. Looking at the map, you can clearly see this bone dry ‘red center’ where grapes will not survive. Australia has approximately 60 wine growing regions with dozens more specific Geographical Indications (GI).

The most well-known wine style from Australia is Shiraz. In fact, we’ve found that consumers are sometimes surprised to learn that Australia grows several other grape varieties! Many popular grapes are grown there, including: reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Grenache; and whites like Chardonnay, Riesling, Muscat, and Sémillon. In certain parts of the country producers are also experimenting with Spanish and Italian varietals like Tempranillo and Sangiovese.

Many wine professionals view the Australian wine industry as a bit of a dichotomy. On one hand the country produces plenty of high-quality, expressive, and unique wines that can be reasonably priced to very expensive. These wines express the terroir of their respective regions, and are produced using methods that take care to maintain fruit character. On the other hand, many view Australia as the go-to country for inexpensive wines. The truth is that Australia indeed offers both; which is we constantly search for wines that achieve the fine balance between quality and value!

Austria

There was once a time when Austrian wine was about as low as you can go on the totem pole of public opinion. Its large-scale industrial producers had taken to adding minute amounts of diethylene glycol, commonly known as antifreeze, to add sweetness and roundness to the diluted base wines. While the health impacts were negligible due to the very small amounts of chemical that were added, the impact on public opinion was enormous; even for the smaller producers that never waivered from their commitment to their quality.

With the nation’s history in mind, Austria’s sordid winemaking past has greatly influenced its modern rise to stardom. By eschewing the low standards of bulk production and embracing strict regulations and a new DAC (appellation) system, Austria now produces wines that compete with the most well-respected regions in the world. Furthermore, the wines are now overwhelmingly dry, as Austria does not want to encourage any comparisons to the artificially sweetened wines of the 1980s.

While there are four main climate zones, the overarching character of Austrian wines is their aromatic freshness and nimble acidity. Grüner Veltliner is the predominant white variety and represents nearly a third of the vineyard plantings in Austria. There are also numerous world-class red wines being produced in Austria from Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch.

Even if the varietal names sound threatening, Austrian wine is worth exploring. For those who enjoy Pinot Noir, give a delectable Blaufränkisch a chance. Like a fruity Sauvignon Blanc from Napa? Venture on over to try a Grüner Veltliner: you won’t be disappointed!

Chile

Like its neighbor Argentina, wine production in Chile began with vine cuttings brought to South America by Spanish settlers in the 1500s. It was not until shortly after Chilean independence, when grape varieties were introduced from Bordeaux in 1851, that fine wine production in Chile began in earnest. In the late 1800s, Chile received international recognition for its Bordeaux varietal wines when phylloxera destroyed most of the vineyards in Europe. It was discovered then that Chilean wine regions, sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean, the Andes Mountains, and sandy deserts, were effectively isolated from the phylloxera epidemic.

Wine regions in Chile are mainly located in the valley between the Coastal Range to the west and the Andes to the east. The Coastal Range is not very tall and blocks a good bit of the moisture coming in off of the Pacific without blocking the cool breezes that temper the heat of the valley. The Andes Mountains send cold air down to the valleys at night which creates significant differences between daytime and nighttime temperatures. That being said, the climate of Chile is ideal for growing fully-ripe grapes with balanced acidity and structure.

Chile is still known for its Bordeaux varietal wines today, including: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. The varietal that is perhaps the most media and market friendly in the US is Carmenère; a very old Bordeaux grape. Chile has recently started producing other French grape varieties, such as Syrah and Pinot Noir, to great success. So, if you are looking for some great reds, look no further. Just keep in mind that like other great wine producing nations, the finest red wines from top Chilean producers will quickly leave the under $20 level and rocket up to $100 and beyond!

France

Without a doubt France remains the epicenter of the wine world. While other countries may stake claim to consuming the most wine per capita or producing more wine by volume, France is a pilgrimage all fine winemakers must make.

Despite France’s reputation for fine wine from illustrious Châteaux, France‘s winemaking prowess is largely accomplished on the backs of small, family-run operations with less than 15 acres of land. This is largely the reason why it is still possible for consumers to find high-quality French wines at bargain prices.

Perhaps another reason for France’s fame is the fact that it is home to a whopping 293 appellations. Little wonder then why so many American wine drinkers are intimidated by French wine! To learn a single appellation is to know which grapes are permitted to be grown, which styles of winemaking are fashionable, the climate, the predominant soil types, as well as the myriad cultural practices that differ from region to region such as pruning methods or trellising traditions. Whew.

The bright light at the end of the tunnel is that the complexity stemmed from something much more powerful and positive: variety! With such a large number of regions and appellations producing wine, it is correct to assume that there are hundreds of wine styles. From the bracingly acidic style of Chardonnay made in Chablis to the unctuous version of Petit Manseng from the Jurançon, France can certainly offer a white wine that fits your taste. When it comes to reds, many of us naturally think of the silky, complex Merlot blends from Bordeaux or the fragrant, earthy representation of Pinot Noir from Burgundy. Yet, France also offer approachable, fruity reds from Beaujolais as well as robust, powerful Syrah and Grenache from the Rhone Valley.

Don’t be afraid to explore France’s offerings; whatever the occasion may be. You will quickly find out why she is so popular and learn which of her offerings is your favorite!

Germany

At first glance, Germany is unlikely wine country. The country is cold and many regions are not particularly sunny. Furthermore, many of the slopes that the vineyards are planted on are impossibly steep and covered with crumbling slate and rock. Fortunately, within this cold and cloudy country, there are pockets of temperate climates located along the Rhine River and its tributaries. Although the poor slate soils commonly found in these regions would appear to be a disadvantage, the rocks actually absorb and retain heat that keep the vines warm during the cold nights.

Germany lies at the extreme of cold-climate winegrowing in Europe. Due to these cold temperatures, the country’s production has always been predominantly white wines, with Riesling at the top of the list in both quantity and quality. For a country essentially dominated by a single grape variety, Germany has a dazzling variety of unique vineyards, producers, and styles. White wines can range from the very dry to the very sweet; but the mark of a quality wine here is always the delicate balance of ripeness and piercing acidity resulting from the cool climate.

While many winegrowing regions struggle with the effects of a warming climate, in Germany it is actually enabling increased production of fine red wines. In the past couple decades, Germany has tripled its plantings of Pinot Noir, known locally as Spätburgunder. The warmer temperatures are permitting these red grapes to fully ripen, and the results are unique and delicious Pinot Noirs. As we mentioned above, not all Riesling is sweet; so make sure to take your time learning about German wine labels and sweetness levels. Don’t worry if it takes you some time because we will be here to guide you every step of the way!

Greece

Although Greece played a pivotal role in the spread of wine throughout Europe, during modern times it was not until the 1980s that Greek wines became known for anything other than super-sweet Muscat or the oft-maligned Retsina (a wine infused with pine resin). Fortunately, when international tourism to Greece began to flourish in the 1970s, Greece was able to show off its variety of delicious wines from throughout its unique climates and terroirs.

Greece is well-positioned in terms of climate for superior viticulture. The coastal and island areas have maritime climates, graced by an abundance of sun and tempered by cooling ocean breezes. Many inland areas are warm without being problematically hot, and some inland areas are also at elevation. The country is also largely free from many viticultural plagues, such as hail, fog, and snow.

Greece grows vines throughout its varied terrain and geography. Some of Greece’s most well-known wines hail from the Aegean Islands, including the gorgeous volcanic island of Santorini. Many of Greece’s island wines are white, due to the fierce and cool winds. Greece’s mainland typically has warmer temperatures and less maritime influence, and accordingly produces more red wines. The Peloponnese peninsula shares characteristics of both the islands and the mainland of Greece, and produces both red and white wines.

Although most producers in Greece still work with indigenous grape varieties rather than more internationally popular grapes, there are delicious wines here for drinkers of every style. The white wines, predominantly made from Assyrtiko, Athiri, and Moschofilero, can range from lean and crisp, to floral and fruity. Many Greek whites are also marked by a distinct minerality and saline character that is highly evocative of the Greek coastlines. The red wines also range from light to full-bodied, and the most popular grapes are Agiorghitiko (fortunately also called St. George) and Xinomavro. And, for those who enjoyed Greece’s sweet wines and Retsina before their other wines became popular, Greece still produces those wines as well!

Italy

When the Greeks colonized Italy they named it “Oenotria,” meaning the “Land of Vines” or the “Land of Wine.” As a peninsula with a long coastline, Italy predominantly has a temperate climate which is conducive to quality viticulture.

Vineyards are present throughout the country, and historically Italy is the second-largest producer of wine behind France. Italy is too intertwined in winegrowing and winemaking history and too varied in soils, terrain, grape varieties, and climates to make generalizations about the country’s wine.

Italy has classified its winegrowing areas into 20 regions that correspond to the country’s administrative regions. Within these general regions, Italy has over 500 protected appellations (including DOCG, DOC, and IGT regions). Perhaps over 1,000 grape varieties are grown in Italy, and of these grape varieties, Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has documented and “authorized” over 350 varieties.

Italy produces such a wide variety of wines that there is a little something for everyone in this country. From the popular light-bodied Pinot Grigio from the Veneto or Friuli, to an aromatic and floral white from the Piedmont, to a hefty oak-aged white wine of Trebbiano from Tuscany, Italy has a staggering variety of styles of white wines for just about any occasion or palate. For the reds, Italy is known for its powerful wines made in appellations such as Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino, but it also produces several light-bodied wines such as Frappato from Sicily and medium-bodied reds such as Valpolicella from the Veneto.

New Zealand

New Zealand’s landscape is stunningly beautiful, but its extreme topography and cool climate wouldn’t appear at first glance the ideal place for growing wine. However, wine is grown throughout the island nation, and New Zealand rose to fame in the 1990s with their memorable expression of Sauvignon Blanc. Today, New Zealand still produces a large amount of their trademark intensely herbaceous white, as well as other cooler-climate whites such as Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay. For red wines, New Zealand has been successful with fruit-forward, fresh Pinot Noir.

Portugal

While Portugal continues to be more well-known internationally for fortified wines, namely Port and Madeira, its table wines have made extraordinary strides in both international recognition and quality over the past twenty years. Surprisingly, much of this can be attributed to the fact that Portugal was cut off from the rest of Europe for much of the latter part of the 20th century due to the Spanish Civil War. While other countries and regions ripped up vineyards to replant fashionable varietals, Portugal remained true to its native grape varieties. Furthermore, when Portuguese winemakers began using modern winemaking technology, they began to find out what their native varieties could really make spectacular wines.

Outside of the extreme southern wine regions, such as Alentejo, most of Portugal’s climate is dominated by the Atlantic Ocean. In the north, the cool temperatures and high rainfall greatly contribute to the making of light, high-acid Vinho Verde. As you move inland and a bit further south, the Douro Valley’s exposed schist and granite terraces offer a more generous amount of sun exposure–which allows for the production of Port. While most of the more well-renowned red wine regions, such as the Dao, are in the northern half of Portugal, southern regions like the Alentejo are quickly gaining a reputation as Portgual’s answer to New World style wines.

We encourage you to begin your Portuguese wine journey with Port and Madeira–but don’t be afraid of venturing into the reds, whites, and even rosés of the country’s delicious portfolio. Fall in love with the rose and citrus notes in the white wines of Dão produced with Encruzado. Interested in one of the finest red wines in the world? With significant aging potential, rich color, excellent structure, and complex flavors and aromas, Touriga Nacional competes with the finest Cabernet Sauvignons anywhere!

South Africa

To many, South Africa may seem to be as far from a ‘traditional’ winemaking region as you can get. How many other wine producing countries are home lions, elephants, and rhinos? However if you think of everything in a straightforward geographical sense, everything becomes clear – the latitude of the South Africa’s prestigious wine regions are almost identical to the best regions of Argentina, Australia, and Chile!

Vineyards were planted in South Africa in the mid-600s to produce wine that could help sustain sailors on the spice routes to India and Asia. With over three centuries of winemaking experience, the country’s heritage and quality fruit is best visible in the growing number of estate wineries. As shown on the map, production is concentrated at the very southern tip of the country fairly close to the coast. The climate in this part of South Africa is Mediterranean, however several regions still require irrigation due to low rainfall.

The most well known grape varietal from South Africa is their very own Pinotage: a crossing between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. The grape produces exotic and expressive red wines that tend to be medium to full-bodied. The star white grape in South Africa is Chenin Blanc, locally known as Steen. Other varietals that are widely planted included Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.

As you begin to explore South Africa’s wines we feel that you will find many have a wonderful balance of old-world European style and new-world approachable fruit. Many make excellent food pairings, and some of the higher end wines rival the best of Europe — Geniet dit!

Spain

When you think of Spanish wine what comes to mind? Sangria? Tempranillo? For centuries the only Spanish wine with an international reputation; let alone that was considered desirable, was Sherry. A large part of this is because it was one of the only wines that would survive unforgiving transport by ship. It was not until the latter half of the 20th century, as the country recovered from Civil and World Wars, that high-quality unfortified table wines, such as the now-famous Albariño and Tempranillo, were produced and exported.

In this period of growth and recovery, international-styled wines began to be produced; introducing styles of wine that were pleasing to palates outside of Spain. The country’s wine laws also evolved, and specific high-quality regions like Rioja and Priorat landed in the international spotlight. Spanish table wines are now the vast majority of what is found in the US market — even though Sherry is seeing a renaissance in many parts of the US.

Spain’s diverse soil types and climates from coastal Galicia to the hot and dry meseta, create a wide variety of wine styles at very reasonable prices. With dozens of young winemakers helping the country continue to develop its own style, you can expect lots of great finds from Spain for many years to come.

United States

After several disappointing beginnings to fine wine production in the United States, due to inhospitable climates, phylloxera, and other diseases, wine is now produced in all 50 states. While New York and Virginia are producing some fine wines on the East Coast, the West Coast states of California, Oregon, and Washington produce the vast majority – 94% – of all wine in the United States.

California was the first (future) US state to experience widespread success in cultivating European grape varieties starting in 1769; with vines brought up from Mexico that originally made their way to the Americas by Spanish settlers in the 1500s. Now, California produces on average 90% of all the wine produced in the United States. There are several excellent winegrowing regions within California which are typically warm and sunny with low rainfall. The individually vineyard sites vary dramatically however, depending upon proximity to the cooling breeze of the Pacific ocean. California is best known for its production of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, but the state has been branching out from their mainstays to experiment with almost every European grape variety of any popularity or acclaim.

Oregon’s main winegrowing region is the Willamette Valley between the Coastal and Cascade mountain ranges. It has cool nights, but warm and sunny summer days. Although there have been a few small producers of wine in Oregon since the mid-1800s, Oregon has only been seriously producing wines since the 1960s–after three graduates of the wine school at UC Davis moved north with the belief that certain areas of Oregon were ideal for growing high quality, cool climate grapes. Since that time, Oregon has rapidly risen to prominence with its production of wines made from Pinot Noir. Generally, due to the cooler climate in Oregon, it tends to produce a style of Pinot Noir that is lighter and brighter than many California Pinot Noirs. Many say the wines are closer to those of Burgundy. Oregon also grows several cooler climate white grapes, such as: Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc.

Like Oregon, Washington only dabbled with wine production in the 1800s and did not begin producing fine wines in earnest until the 1960s. Unlike Oregon however, winemaking in Washington is predominantly located away from the coast in the dry and warm continental climate found to the east of the Cascade mountain range. With this warmer climate, Washington produces significantly more wine than Oregon; making it the second largest wine producing state in the US. Red wines are predominantly made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, while Washington whites are commonly Chardonnay and Riesling.