Introduction to the major wine-producing regions of the world

Wine is produced by most of the temperate countries of the world, and even a few semi-tropical countries. France, Italy, and Spain together produce nearly half of the world’s wine, ranging from dinner-table wines to dessert wines, so it is not surprising that most of the best-known wine regions of the world are in this part of the world. Virtually every country in Europe has at least one wine region. However, some famous wines come from lesser-known wine regions of the world which may surprise you.

France

Nearly every region of France is known for its own special wines. As the primary wine producer of the world, France still gives its regional names to most of the world’s best-known wines, such as Bordeaux, Burgundy and, of course, Champagne. In fact, a sparkling white wine can’t legally be called “champagne” if it is from any other region in the world, even if the taste would otherwise qualify it.

Along and inland from the Atlantic coast south of Bretagne, the formally recognized wine regions of France are Loire Valley, Cognac, Bordeaux, Sud-Ouest and Armagnac. Languedoc-Rousillon, Provence, and Rhone Valley line the Mediterranean region of France. Corse is home to Corsica’s unique vineyards.

For the other major wine regions, you have to look deeper inland. Burgundy, Savoie, Jura and Alsace lies towards France’s border with Germany. Finally, Champagne can be found in the north inland part of the country.

The dominant grapes in France are Merlot and Grenache. However, the range is much larger than that, with several dozen varieties planted throughout France. The majority of wine grapes grown outside Europe descended from French rootstock.

Italy

With its near-perfect climate for growing the vintage grape, every part of Italy abounds in vineyards. Thus, for simplicity, the broadest official wine regions of Italy correspond to its administrative regions. All of these regions are part of the Italian mainland except Sicily and Sardinia, which are islands off the coast of Italy.

Each of these broad wine administrative areas is further subdivided into several wine subregions, which produce specific types of Italian wine. For example, the wine subregion of Chianti can be found in Tuscany.

The dominant grapes in Italy are Sangiovese (for reds) and Trebbiano (for whites). Again, these are only the most popular grapes from several dozen varieties. Of special note are the super Tuscans. These are high quality Tuscan wines which fall outside the official guidelines for wines from that region.

Spain

There are over 100 wine regions in mainland Spain. Of these, 46 produce Vino de la Tierra (country wine), and do not have official European Union status. Another 68 wine regions of Spain do have official European Union status, and have strict content and quality control.

The dominant grapes in Spain are Tempranillo (for reds) and Airen (for whites).While over 600 types of grapes are grown in Spain, most of the country’s wine is made from just 20 varieties.

North America

When European settlers moved to the New World, many of them took their familiar rootstocks with them. In the United States, which is fourth in the world in wine production, California is the main wine-producing region, by far. Surprisingly, the first recognized American Viticultural Area was the Augusta AVA, in Missouri. While the best-known Californian wine region is probably the Napa Valley, there are 47 distinct AVAs in the Central Valley and central coastal areas alone.

Most parts of Canada which lie near the U.S. border produce wine, from the vineyards of the Fundy shore of Nova Scotia all the way to British Columbia’s wine islands. Of special mention is the Niagara region adjacent to Niagara Falls, which produces internationally renowned ice wine. The ice wines made in this region are so desirable worldwide that Canadian vintners have introduced anti-counterfeiting elements into their wine bottles.

The Southern Hemisphere

The temperate regions of South America have some excellent wines, especially in the Andean foothills of Chile and Argentina. Chile is also the only wine-producing country in the world to have escaped the phylloxera infestation which forced nearly every other vineyard in other wine regions to graft their grapes onto American rootstock. As a result, one of Chile’s best-known exports is Carmenere, a “lost” varietal of Bordeaux which is seldom seen elsewhere. Many other Chilean wines are commonly ranked among the best in the world.

Australia and South Africa round off the world’s major wine-producing countries. All but 2 of South Africa’s wine regions are located near the coastline of Western Cape. None of them are far away from the cape coasts.

Nearly all of Australia’s wine regions are in the southeast of the country, especially in Victoria and New South Wales, along with adjacent coastal parts of South Australia. A secondary wine-producing area, with four wine regions, can be found along the southwestern coast of Western Australia.

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