20 wonderful wine regions
Margaret River, Australia
Picturesque Margaret River is Western Australia’s top wine region, hosting over 200 vineyards that make barrel upon barrel of exceptional chardonnay as well as cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot. In fact, this area south of Perth provides over 20 percent of Australia’s premium wines. Along with fantastic surfing opportunities, lush forest laced with exciting treks and trails, not to mention its outstanding gastronomic goodies (olive oil, cheese, chocolate), Margaret River is the tourist's dream.
Vale dos Vinhedos, Brazil
While Chilean vineyards have Spanish parentage, the wines from Vale dos Vinhedos in southern Brazil stem from Italian immigration during the late 1800s. This lovely region of gently sloping hills produces around 90 percent of Brazil’s fine wines, among them some exceptional bubbly tipples.
China is gaining an increasingly powerful reputation within the international wine market, with British wine merchants stocking ice wines from the northeast province of Shandong. Changyu Pioneer Wine Co. is one of Shandong’s largest and oldest wine houses, and is creating a vast “Wine City” complete with European-style village, research and trading centres, and not one but two châteaux, one focusing on wine, the other on brandy.
Typical Canadian images of killer whales, icebergs and snow-covered mountains might clash with wine and its accompanying warm weather, but then again, big old Canada covers many a climate. Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia, was first planted up in the 1850s, but was hampered during the Prohibition, only to regain commercial impetus in the 1930s, concentrating mainly on fruit wines. The 1970s marked a rebirth of the traditional grape vine, and today the area is the second largest wine region in Canada.
Georgia is supposedly where wine cultivation first began. Archeological research shows that as early as 4000 BC, the people of South Caucasus discovered that wild grape juice transformed into wine after being buried in a clay pot (a quevri or kvevri) over the winter. Quevris are still used in some wine-making there today. Kakheti, in eastern Georgia, is the country’s foremost wine region.
Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
New Zealand’s New World Wines are incredibly popular throughout the world, and the North Island’s Hawke’s Bay – the oldest and second largest wine region, after Marlborough – has an incredibly strong following. Among its white wines are rich, buttery Chardonnays, while its reds are made with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes.
Southern England, United Kingdom
“Southern England” is a vague term representing the 400 or so vineyards in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. The 1950s heralded a commercial revival in English wine, brought about by individuals determined to prove that the somewhat erratic UK climate could sustain vine-growing. Today, southern England’s vineyards produce an excellent selection of award-winning still and sparkling wines, which more than hold their own against the biggest and best around the world.
The Valais, Switzerland
Swiss wine is one of the country’s best-kept secrets; production is relatively small, but its popularity within the home boundaries means that little gets sent for export. The Valais in western Switzerland is a favoured wine region, and has a varied terrain producing a sweep of reds and whites, which match up well with tasty Swiss meats and cheeses.
Dry, fruity and often richly concentrated, the red wines that come from the Chianti region in Tuscany are generally regarded as Italy’s best. The wine region is made up of eight districts, with Chianti Classico forming the heartland of the area. These Classico wines are the most sought after, and vary hugely depending on vintage, grape blend and aging (length and technique).
Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
Lebanese wine-making is a particularly ancient craft, dating back to the Phoenician age. The climate in the Bekaa Valley east of Beirut – very hot summers and wet winters – are the perfect conditions for Lebanese grapes. Château Musar is the most internationally renowned wine producer here, while châteaux Ksara (the oldest) and Kefraya also dominate.
Rioja, in the north of Spain, produces red wines that have populated the international wine market for years (though now there are also plenty of up-and-coming regions like Priorato and Rías Baixas). The Tempranillo grape is most dominant in this area.
The Mosel wine region is named for the river snaking through it, the Moselle (Mosel in German). From the steep slopes running down to the river, some exceptionally light white wines are made, in particular the flowery, aromatic Riesling, which is also easier on the alcohol content.
Around 60 percent of Argentine wine is produced in the Mendoza region, sitting snugly in the foothills of the Andes. At this high altitude, various superior wines are produced, including delectable Malbec, arguably the perfect accompaniment to a slab of tender beefsteak – another example of Argentina’s gourmet produce.
Maipo Valley, Chile
Chilean vineyards have a Spanish heritage, and originate from the sixteenth century. Maipo Valley, just south of Santiago, is the country’s most established wine region and produces wines familiar to most British supermarket shelves, like Concha y Toro. Cabernet Sauvignon is particularly special round these parts.
Sparkling wines are made in just about every wine-producing country, but the bubbly stuff that comes from the Champagne region in northern France is the only one that can be officially labelled “Champagne”, which recognizes its superlative quality. The major Champagne cities are Reims and Épernay, where visitors can visit extravagant caves and champagne houses – like Moët et Chandon, Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin – and sip on vintage bubbly.
Moravia, Czech Republic
A glass of pale lager most likely springs to mind when contemplating Czech Republic booze but that would be disregarding the country’s excellent wines coming from its premier wine region, Moravia. Southeast of Prague, the area is pretty and lush, dotted with traditional villages. The best time to taste Czech wine is during the harvest in September, when many exuberant vinobraní (festivals) take place – particularly in Znojmo, Mikulov, Brno and Mělník.
The Douro, Portugal
The Douro region in northern Portugal is most famous for its production of the sweet, fortified wine, Port. But it’s not all about the Port: various other excellent red wines, such as the intense Barca Velha, also hail from round these parts – mostly thanks to the irrigation and microclimate provided by the magnificent Douro River.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
After Constantia, Stellenbosch is the second oldest wine-producing region in South Africa, dating back to 1679. Fringed by glorious mountains, neat vineyards stretch into the distance, attracting visitors who come to cellar-hop, soaking up a heady concoction of sunshine, refreshing Chenin Blanc and smoky Pinotage, South Africa’s signature red wine.
Sonoma County, USA
Massive Sonoma County sits next to its just-as-famous brethren, Napa Valley. But unlike its rather more glitzy, glamorous neighbour, Sonoma has a laidback feel to it, peppered with quaint and charming “old school” wineries as well as more modern, cutting-edge concerns. In such a large area, you’d expect the full gamut of wines – whether you enjoy a hefty Chardonnay or an aromatic Pinot Noir, you’re sure to find something to tickle your fancy here.
Centring on the elegant city of Bordeaux and spreading either side of the Gironde river in southwestern France, the flat and relatively uninspiring Bordeaux wine region can hardly be deemed the most attractive wine region, except perhaps around the medieval village of St-Émilion (pictured). But it’s undoubtedly one of the most famous, and most highly regarded, wine regions in the world, producing legendary and expensive reds.
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