France – the home of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne – is arguably the world’s most important wine-producing country. For centuries, it has produced wine in greater quantity – and of reportedly greater quality – than any other nation. Wine is ingrained in French culture at almost every level of society; it is the drink of both the elite and the common people, and a key symbol in Roman Catholicism, France’s majority religion.
Alsace is a charming area of northeastern France that lies along the Rhine River, just across from Germany and Switzerland. Wines from Alsace are primarily white and, thanks to the Germanic influence, you’ll find Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris grapes here. Pinot Noir also makes an appearance as well. If you’re in search of a good one to try, Wine Enthusiast has a Top Alsatian White Wines list to start with.
Next to Burgundy, Bordeaux is probably the most well-known French wine region. One of the most noted historical events in Bordeaux was the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, which was a result of the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris. Emperor Napoleon III wanted a classification system to display the best wines to visitors. Wines were ranked from first to fifth growths, or crus. The First Growths, or Premiers Crus, are
• Château Lafite, Pauillac
• Château Latour, Pauillac
• Château Margaux, Margaux
• Château Haut-Brion, Pessac, Graves
• Château Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac (*elevated and added to the list in 1973)
Bordeaux is located in the southwest of France, and you may hear people refer to “Left Bank” or “Right Bank,” indicating which side of the river the wines are from. Grapes grown in Bordeaux include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle. A Red Bordeaux means the wine is always blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with Left Bank wines typically containing more Cabernet Sauvignon, while Right Bank wines have more Merlot.
Burgundy, or Bourgogne, is one of France’s most famous wine regions. Located southeast of Paris, Bourgogne consists of districts like Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, and the disjoined region of Beaujolais, which is further south. A few of these districts are the reason Burgundy is so renowned, and produce some of the world’s most expensive wines like DRC, or Domaine de la Romanée Conti. If you’re looking for some more affordable options, Wine Enthusiast has a guide to buying Burgundy wines. A few of the important, or more well-known, regions in Burgundy include:
Chablis wines are made from only Chardonnay grapes and are divided into four appellations: Chablis, Petit Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, and Chablis Grand Cru.
Côte d’Or is southeast of Chablis and is home to both red and white wines. The northern end of Côte d’Or is Côte de Nuits, known for its luscious, full-bodied reds like Pinot Noir, while the southern end of Côte de Beaune produces both beautiful dry whites and elegant reds. Some of France’s best Chardonnay grapes are grown here, given that seven of the eight grand crus are found here. Appellations like Pommard, Volnay, Mersault, and Puligny-Montrachet are recognizable names.
• Reims and region
• Epernay and region
• Marne Valley
• Côte des Bars
• Coteaux Vitryats
One of the best trails to visit is the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, as the most famous Champagne Houses are located here and it is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Dom Perignon (Moët & Chandon) and Pol Roger are some of the houses you’ll find here.
Look for full-bodied reds from Saint Chinian and Corbieres, while Banyuls is known for its sweet red wines. Light and dry rosés are common in Languedoc-Roussillon as well. In the 1970’s, Languedoc-Roussillon got a bad rap for producing cheap “jug wine.” Old grenache vines have since been replaced with varietals like Carignon, and the region is slowly regaining its status.
Vineyards in Cahors
Cahors is located in the southwest of France and is considered the birthplace of Malbec, sometimes referred to as the “Black Wine.” It was granted its own Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée status in 1971; however, it means that under AOC rules, at least 70% of the wine must be made with Malbec to qualify for status. You are likely to see Malbec referred to as Côt rather than Malbec in France. Try a Malbec from Clos Triguedina, from Jean Luc Baldes, considered “master of the Malbec grape.”
The Loire wine region is situated along the Loire River, running east to west, and it’s divided into three sections:
• Upper Loire – Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes
• Middle Loire – Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc
• Lower Loire – Muscadet region
Appellations within the Loire Valley include Pays Nantais, Anjou, Saumur, Touraine, and Centre-Loire. A section of the Louire, between Sully-sur-Loire and Charlonnes-sur-Loire, is also UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’re looking for winery suggestions, Decanter Magazine has their “top 6 wineries” in Loire, including Domaine Henri Bourgeois in Sancerre, which produces Le MD de Bourgeois that comes from the Les Monts Damnés slopes.
Grand cru vineyard, Cote Rotie, Rhone-Alpes
France’s Rhône Valley runs north to south in France, starting from Lyon and extended to just north of Provence. It is home to a wide variety of grapes, including Mourvèdre, Marsanne, Syrah, Red Grenache, and Viognier. Many wines from the Rhône Valley are entry-level blends, like Côtes du Rhône AOC; however, there are a number of higher-end Crus, one of the most famous being Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is made by blending several of the up to 14 permitted grape varieties.
Italy – the home of Moscato, Chianti, Amarone and Prosecco – has a rich and diverse wine heritage dating back more than two thousand years. Famous for its bewildering diversity of both grape varieties and wine styles, Italy is also significant for the sheer volume of wine it produces: just over 40 million hL in 2012, from 800,000 ha of vineyards.
Piedmont, or Piemonte in Italian, means the foot of the Mountains. Lying at the base of the Alps, this name fits quite well. Piedmont has a cool continental climate with a hot growing season and often very foggy conditions. The great Nebbiolo wines of Piedmont are named for his fog, or nebbia. The cuisine of the region is often rich and creamy with lots of meat, risotto, and most famously, white truffles (tartuffi bianchi).
Piedmont produces more wine than any other Italian region and makes the highest percentage of quality wines in Italy. Piedmont is home to some of the most robust, long-lived wines in the world, many of which are indigenous to Piedmont and rarely excel anywhere else in the world. In particular, the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco are two of Italy’s best. Like fine Bordeaux, these Nebbiolo wines take years of aging before they can be drunk. When they are young, they are viciously tannic, but with proper cellaring, they become great.
Piedmont produces such good wine that the region’s close historical relationship with France should come as no great surprise. Indeed, the character of a powerful Barolo is similar to that of a red Burgundy wine.
Celtic tribes were the first inhabitants of Piedmont, but were quickly conquered by the Romans. The mighty empire brought viticulture to the region, and it flourished until the fall of Rome. Following this collapse, Piedmont suffered under the invasion of eastern marauders and then spent many years under the rule of the French Savoy family. This feudal family controlled the region almost unilaterally, with a brief interlude during Napoleon’s empire, until the end of the Second World War.
The region is an industrial center as well with the automobile company, Fiat, headquartered in Turin.
Pressing up against France and Switzerland, Piedmont is located in the Northwestern corner of Italy.
Severe winters and warm summers characterize the region, and frequent mountain fogs add an additional dimension of complexity. Hail is not unusual, and can damage harvests during the long ripening period of many of Piedmonts grapes.
Vineyards grow predominantly along moderately steep hillsides, though some have spread into the river valleys below.
Soil is composed largely of calcium-rich marl, sand, and clay, but the actual composition varies extensively.
Barbera:Rich and flavorful, these wines require less aging than Nebbiolos.
Moscato:Used mostly to make Spumante or Frizzante, which can be luscious and sweet, or more on the dry side. The best of Piedmont’s white wines are made from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, the highest quality grape in the Muscat family. One of the most important of these wines is the sparkling Asti DOCG, which is naturally sparkling and slightly sweet with a low level of alcohol. Another similar wine is the delicious, slightly sparkling Moscato d’Asti DOCG. Moscato d’Asti averages about 5% alcohol and usually has a distinct “grapey” aroma in its youth.
Nebbiolo:Rich and smoky in Barolo, elegant and feminine in Barbaresco. Aging is required for the traditionally made Nebbiolos. Barolo producers are divided into two camps – those who vinify in the traditional manner and those who use modern techniques. Traditionally, the wine was left in contact with the skins for long periods of time during fermentation, and aged in large oak or chestnut casks for years. These traditional-style Barolos are complex and earthy with flavors of tar, truffle, violets, tobacco, prunes, and smoke. In the modern style, winemakers focus their efforts on softening the Nebbiolo grape’s harsh tannins and on extracting the maximum color. The main difference though is that in the modern style, wines are aged in small, new oak barriques for little longer than the required two years. In this style, the wines tend to be softer with a vanilla character and are generally ready to drink years earlier than the wines made in the traditional style.
Dolcetto:Wines made from the Dolcetto grape are smooth and quaffable, but should generally be consumed when young.
The region’s ethic groups mixed over the years, and it became a melting pot of German and Italian influences. This is apparent in the region’s wines, with names from Pinot Grigio to Müller-Thurgau.
Following World War Two, rapid industrialization and the development of tourist routes in the region both spurred Trentino-Alto Adige’s wine economy, and it continues to grow slowly. Though the region only produces a tiny percentage of Italy’s total amount of wine, the quality remains quite high.
The Northernmost wine region in all of Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige pushes up against Austria in the North.
Summers are fairly warm, but winters are very cold. The climate varies extensively from year to year, making vintage selection important.
Vineyards grow on steep slopes in the mountainous landscape of the region. Wine is produced at altitudes of over 3000 feet.
Soil is generally rocky, with influences of clay, sand, and sometimes calcium. The light earth of Northern Trentino-Alto Adige suffers from leaching, making fertilization a necessity.
Chardonnay: frequently mixed with Pinot Bianco to produce very good Spumante.
Pinot Grigio: flavors of melon, quite round and smooth.
One of Italy’s top wine producers, the Tuscany region is rivaled in prestige only by Piedmont in the north. Tuscany contains a number of very fine DOC and DOCG appellations within its geographical borders, and it also is the home to some very good or “vini da tavola” wines, the Super Tuscans.
By far the most important Tuscan Appellation is Chianti. Chianti is in the heart of Tuscany, centrally located within the region. Of Tuscany’s 157,000 acres of vineyards and 57 million gallons of wine, almost half of it is from Chianti. Much is exported to the US and most of it is pleasant wine meant for immediate drinking. However Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Superiore DOCGs can produce some incredible wines that compete at the highest level. Chianti Riservas are particularly fine, coming from warm, dry vintages. These conditions transform the wine, giving it layers of ripe plums and cherries, earth, truffles, and other complexities. Many of these top Chiantis will age for over twenty years.
Chianti shares Tuscany with Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, both of which produce wines of great quality. Brunello is a local variety of the Sangiovese grape, which makes wines so thick and harsh that they should age at least ten to twenty years before opening.
Tuscany was one of the original wine producing regions in all or Europe. The Etruscans, Tuscany’s first settlers, traded wine with the Greeks and made a name for the region. Later, Tuscany became a central part of the Roman Empire, and winemaking continued to grow and prosper.
Wineries go way back, with some family-owned estates tracing their property back to the early Medieval Age. In the sixteenth century, the Medici family of Florence made Tuscany into a formidable economic and political force, an event that provided a major boon to its wine production.
Phylloxera decimated the Tuscan vineyards in the late nineteenth century, and the region as a whole deteriorated somewhat during the mid twentieth. However, stricter laws and motivated wineries have led resurgence since the 1980s, and now Tuscany dominates Central Italy’s wine scene.
Located just north of Rome, the Tuscany Region expands north along the Apennine Mountains.
The climate of Tuscany is warm and fairly dry, with mild winters and hot, dry summers.
Vineyards grow on sloping hillsides to provide good sun exposure and drainage. Due to the hot summers, winemakers plant heat-sensitive grapes at higher altitudes with cooler air and breezes.
Soils are complex, with the best containing a unique rocky blend called galestro.
Sangiovese: Also known as Brunello, Morellino, Prugnolo, Sangioveto, Tignolo, and Uva Canina.
Trebbiano: Also known as Procanico.
This region has become know as the Italian Bordeaux, with many good red blends. The Veneto also produces the most wine in volume in Northeast Italy, and in good years it’s the number one producer in Italy as a whole. Though some of the Veneto’s appellations have received criticism for their wine quality, most notably the areas of Soave and Valpolicella, new technologies seem to be improving things to some degree. Visitors to The Veneto area certainly have more than just wine to drink, with the picturesque city of Venice absorbing the majority of the region’s tourism.
The Veneto’s wines lined the walls of stores in the United States during the middle of the twentieth century. Imported mostly from Soave and Valpolicella, these inexpensive wines were mass-produced by large corporate bodies in Italy, making individual wines nearly indistinguishable. Small wineries lost their footholds as the traditional DOC boundaries of Soave and Valpolicella were hugely expanded out of the hills and down into the flat alluvial plains. As a result of this expansion and overproduction, the Veneto’s wines lost respect internationally and became known only for their mediocrity. There are many wineries producing great wines within Saove and Valpolicella, and within the Veneto as a whole, however their quality remains overshadowed by the critique of the overall region.
Located North of Venice, The Veneto stretches across most of the northern reaches of the Adriatic Sea.
The Veneto is characterized by hot summers and cool winters, though its weather is less extreme than that of the other regions in Northeastern Italy thanks to its proximity to the Adriatic Sea.
Most vineyards grow in the southern plains of the region, though many of the finest wines originate on surrounding hillsides.
Silty sandy soil prevails throughout the Veneto, with influences of clay and calcareous debris.
Soave: A light, simple white wine. It’s made from Garganega and Trebbiano, and does not age well. Per its name, it is quite smooth and suave. The original Soave region is in the hills covered with thick volcanic rock and soil, and this area is now the Soave Classico DOC. The remaining area, which spreads into the plains below, is simply the Soave DOC. Soave Classico Superiore, an area with many good wineries that have made a real effort to save the overall region’s name, was recently honored by receiving the DOCG title.
Bardolino Another light wine made from Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella with a majority of Corvina. The Bardolino Classico DOC is better, and the Bardolino Superiore DOCG makes the best wine of the area.
Valpolicella A blend of at least seventy percent Corvina, with Molinara and Rondinella added in. This wine tends to be smoky with strong cherry flavors. As with the above regions, Valpolicella Classico DOC, and Valpolicella Classico Superiore improve upon the wine from the basic classification.
Amarone An intense aromatic wine with a very full body. The wine is made from partially dried grapes, and the long fermentation process creates a high alcohol content within this wine.
Prosecco A Frizzante made just outside of Venice, this wine is extremely popular in the Veneto region.
Spain is a land of breathtaking landscapes, colorful history and a deep, complex culture in which wine has long played an important role. Grape vines have been grown on the Iberian Peninsula since at least 3000 B.C., although it was not until 1000 B.C. that winemaking began here in earnest – a skill brought by Phoenician traders from the eastern Mediterranean. Today, Spain is home to more vines than any other country on Earth, and has a national wine output exceeded only by France and Italy.
Winemaking in the Rioja is believed to date back to the Phoenicians of the 11th century BC, though the earliest written evidence of grape-growing in the region – a document from the Public Notary of San Millán – is from 873 AD. Archaeological evidence in the form of a 75,000-liter wine cistern suggests that vineyards were established in the Rioja to supply Ancient Roman troops. In 1102, the King of Navarra and Avalon gave legal recognition to the wines from Rioja, and by 1560 they had become so popular that local authorities attempted to safeguard the quality and reputation of their wines by prohibiting the use of grapes from other regions and by branding their wines with a seal of authenticity.
In the late 18th century, oak aging barrels were introduced to Rioja. This allowed the wines to stay good for longer, so they could be exported around the world. The early 19th century saw various other advances in wine production, such as the use of large vats to crush and ferment the grapes in place of traditional outdoor crushing by foot. In the 1850s a fungal disease destroyed vineyards in nearby Galicia, while the grapevine pest Phylloxera attacked vineyards in France, opening up the market for Rioja wines. French winemakers traveled to Rioja to set up wineries there, and the extensive knowledge, techniques, and experience they brought led to a boom in the Rioja wine industry. Even when Phylloxera reached Rioja in the 1890s, methods had been established to counter the pests’ destruction, and the region’s wine production quickly recovered. A regulating council was created in 1926 and inaugurated in 1953 in order to limit the zones of production, control the use of the name “Rioja,” and expand the wine’s warranty. In 1991 Rioja became Spain’s first (and currently only) Denominación de Origen Calificada.
Named for the Rio Oja, a tributary of Spain’s largest river the Ebro, the Rioja region is bordered on the east by the Pyrenees and on the north by the Cantabrian Mountains. The region itself lies mostly on a valley, with the surrounding mountains serving to moderate the climate. They keep the Rioja fairly warm, and they provide protection from the fierce winds found elsewhere in northern Spain. The limestone-heavy soil contains pockets of sandstone and clay.
Vineyards grow in the hills in and around Rioja, with a few spilling down into the valleys.
Soil in Rioja is heavily influenced by limestone, with pockets of sandstone and clay.
The region produces Tempranillo, Viura, and Garnacha. Most red Rioja wines are a blend of roughly 70 percent Tempranillo, 15 percent Garnacha, and the remaining 15 percent divided evenly between Graciano and Mazuelo (also known as Carignan). White Riojas are 95 percent Viura and 5 percent Malvasía.
New World Wines
The term “world-class” no longer pertains only to wines made in Europe and California. New worlds of winemaking have emerged, and their products should vie for attention in any wine drinker’s house. Some of the finest cabernets, merlots, chardonnays, rieslings and other varietals are produced in New World regions such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Chile. But can these wines really compare to the finest produced by Europe and California? Absolutely.
New World wines are technically defined as “wines produced in regions established by colonies of European exploration, which began with some of the longer voyages in the 15th century.” In other words, New World wines are all those produced in regions other than Europe and the Mediterranean countries.
The most prominent and productive New World wine-producing countries are the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. With the exception of those of South Africa, New World wines are generally produced to express the varietal fruit qualities of the grape rather than of their geographic origins. New World wine styles are also more subject to market trends, and nature tends to play a lesser role in the process of making them — modern technology takes the lead here. Consequently, the popularity of these wines is starting to catch on.
Australia has long been at the forefront of the ‘New World’ wine renaissance, with a highly dedicated and professional industry based on research and development. Both Australia and the global wine industry have benefited from the technological advancements in wine-growing.
Switzerland, a land of vineyards (14’900 ha)
Switzerland may be best known for its chocolate, cheese and watches, but it is also a nation whose land is a rich tapestry of vineyards. More than 200 grape varieties are grown here and vinified. The country’s six large wine-producing region offer wines that illicit respect and growing interest from wine-lovers around the world.
Swiss wine-making has a long history, going back in time at least 800 years before the Romans came north with new grape varieties and improved methods of vinification not yet known on this side of the Alps. Later, during the Middle Ages, monks began to build the magnificent terraces that still mark the landscape in some areas. Their labour not only tamed land that was ideal for cultivating grapes for Catholic mass wines, but it gave root to the very notion of viticulture. And when phylloxera ravaged the country’s vineyards, Swiss research stations played a determining role in developing new grape varieties that would be more resistant to disease.
Swiss wine was thus acclaimed over time and today it is happily consumed with the best of companions, the simple pleasure of tasting it.
Canton Valais is paradise for anyone who loves wine and exploring new experiences. Valais alone produces one-third of Switzerland’s wine. Some 20,000 wine producers and 700 cellar masters cultivate 5,136 hectares of grapes in the canton, making wines from them that boast a unique identity.
Valais as a whole has a great diversity of soils and a particularly dry, sunny climate that lends itself well to growing a number of grape varieties. Among the most famous are the emblematic grapes Cornalin and Humagne Rouge, as well as Pinot Noir and Gamay, the two most widely grown red grapes in Valais. Their marriage created the celebrated blend, Dôle. Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet are made as varietal (single grape) wines and are used in blends, with both approaches giving wines that have a solid international reputation.
Valais also has a large collection of white wine grape varieties, from the delicate and light Fendant (called Chasselas elsewhere) to Amigne, Petite Arvine and Heide. The canton is famous for its late harvest specialty wines, notable for their rich and complex aromas.
The vineyards of Valais also cover the largest continuous geographic expanse of any in the country, reaching east to west over more than 100 kilometres, on both sides of the Rhone river. The left bank’s relatively modestly sized vineyards are scattered near Lake Geneva, Martigny, Riddes, Sierre and Visp. The stretch along the right bank begins in the “upper Valais” in the east: Leuk, then Salgesch/Salquenen on the language divide, Sierre, continuing to Sion and Conthey in “central Valais”, then on to Chamoson, Fully and Branson in the west.
The central and lower Valais region is remarkable for its alternating small vine parcels and terraces that have full southern exposure, while in the upper Valais, vines are planted up to the most inaccessible areas in the Rhone’s lateral valleys.
The vines of Visperterminen, perched at more than 1,000 metres altitude, are among the highest in Europe.
Chasselas is known and cultivated as a table grape elsewhere, but generations of wine producers in Vaud have been celebrated for their unique craftsmanship, an ability to create wines capable of expressing, extraordinarily well, the nuances and subtleties of these wines’ terroirs. They are fresh – and refreshing – wines in their youth, but some vintages reveal their character fully only several years after they have been bottled.
Chasselas has an ability to showcase the many different soils and micro-climates that characterize canton Vaud and to reflect, as no other grape can do, the natural diversity of the six AOC regions here: La Côte, Lavaux, Chablais, Côtes de l’Orbe, Bonvillars and Vully, and the two AOC Grand Crus of Dézaley and Calamin. Growers throughout the canton have a special relationship with this grape variety. But some of them, notably in Lavaux, also carry on the painstaking work of the Cistercian monks who, in the Middle Ages, carved out and built imposing terraces to tame the hillsides, terrain that had not until then lent itself easily to growing wine grapes. A remarkable feat that convinced UNESCO to include Lavaux in its register of World Heritage sites, in 2007.
Vaud is known for its hospitality and traditions, as well as for innovation. Its reputation is spreading as well for its many white and red specialty wines. Vaud’s world-famous Fête des Vignerons extravaganza, which has been celebrated in Vevey every 25 years or so since the 18th century, takes place again in 2019.
Pioneers in viticulture in Geneva – unlike their counterparts elsewhere – early on sought to avoid the predominance of Chasselas and Gamay in the vineyards. They diversified their production with grape varieties that include Scheurebe, Kerner, Riesling-Sylvaner, Sauvignon Blanc as well as Merlot and Gamaret, a relatively new variety that is 100% Swiss. Despite its youth, it has become one of the most widely planted grape varieties in the canton. Growers continue, of course, to produce Geneva’s very old and special grapes such as Altesse and Mondeuse.
Canton Geneva is the third largest wine producing region in the country, and one of the most dynamic. This was one of the first areas to use the Guyot cane-pruning method for training vines, in 1925, when the system was virtually unknown in Switzerland. It was the first canton to pass laws to provide a framework for AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) wines. The vitality of the canton’s vine and wine business is well illustrated today by its “Esprit de Genève project, begun in 2004. Contemporary and traditional approaches are combined, with 19 wineries using their creativity each year to create wines with a common base: 50% Gamay, 30% Gamaret or Garanoir and 20% other grape varieties. These exceptional quality wines are marketed with a common label as a symbol of the innovative approach and diversity that mark Geneva’s wines. The canton’s wine producers, in a continuous effort to make fine wines, have developed considerable skills and knowledge for sparkling wines. The new generation of oenologists from Geneva are winning more and more medals for their wines in international competitions.
All 17 German-speaking cantons, from Basel to Chur, grow grapes and make wine. Cultivation and wine-making are often done in small quantities, with vineyards scattered; the result is wines that are very different, marked by their terroirs.
Dry, warm foehn winds play a key role in the way grapes mature in most of the German-speaking areas. The warmth is spread through the Alpine valleys and the plains, gently “cooking” the grapes, as the growers of Graubünden like to say so poetically. The regulating effect of the many lakes, rivers and streams that are etched into the landscape are a factor in the creation of numerous microclimates that vary hugely depending on the region.
The many and varied types of soil are particularly significant for the terroir: Jurassic limestone in and around Basel, Solothurn, Aargau, Zurich and Schaffhausen; molasse in Thurgau and Saint Gallen but also with some found in Zurich and Aargau; glacial deposits in Lucerne, central Switzerland and in both Zurich and Aargau. Cantons Graubünden and Uri benefit from alluvial fan soils.
Beyond their specific environmental differences, Swiss German wine areas have this in common: their main grape is Pinot Noir, also called Blauburgunder here, with three-quarters of the 2,636 hectares in the region planted with this variety. Pinot Noir has a reputation for giving wines that are light and fruity, but some of the Swiss German wines are surprisingly powerful, richly complex. This know-how has been rewarded by the Mondial des Pinots, where four of the five winners of the title “Pinot Noir World Champion” have come from Swiss German cantons.
White grapes represent only 25 percent of production, with Müller-Thurgau (also called Riesling-Sylvaner) the preferred grape by far. There is some Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, and these grow well in Swiss German areas, but only small quantities are planted. The old grape variety Räuschling was once very widely planted but today it has become almost exclusive to canton Zurich, which has developed it as a local specialty. An interesting and very old grape that has recently sparked serious new interest is Completer, which gives complex wines in the hands of skilled artisans.
In terms of the total size of their vineyards, the largest areas are Zurich, 609 hectares; Schaffhausen, 482 hectares; Graubünden, 423 hectares and Aarau, 398 hectares.
Around Sopraceneri, in the north, and more particularly in the communes of Giornico, Biasca and Bellinzona, you’ll still find vines cultivated using the traditional pergola method, while further south, in the Sottoceneri region, wine producers are far more inclined to use the modern system of wire-trained vines. Ticino’s northern and southern areas differ, not just in growing techniques, but also in their microclimates and soils, with very different characteristics. The north’s Alpine profile of granite and gneiss includes little limestone (Leventina, Valle di Blenio, Bellinzona, Locarno and Vallemaggia), while the south is marked by heavy and fertile soil formed by a mix of volcanic rocks and glacial moraine (Lugano, Mendrisio and Malcantone).
Despite these differences, Ticino’s north and south share one thing in common: Merlot. This grape variety, introduced to the canton in 1906, accounts for 82% of the 1,076 hectares of vines here. About 10% of Ticino’s vines are Bondola, a very old indigenous grape variety, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. White grapes – Chardonnay, Chasselas, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier for the most part – account for only 8% of the growing area. “Merlot Bianco” is the leading white wine, with one-fifth of the annual production.
Merlot’s remarkable affinity for the land, and it’s ability to show its many faces so well here, account for the grape’s dominance in Ticino. Depending on how it is vinified, this grape can give white, sparkling and rosé wines as well as a large range of reds: wines that are excellent when young, fruity and light to very expressive and beautifully structured wines that have been matured in oak vats.
A special feature of Ticino is that a number of producers still grow “American” grape varieties, which are in fact usually crosses between European and American plants. These are not well suited to wine because of their foxy aromas, but they – and in particular “Uva Americana” – provide excellent material for making Ticino’s renowned grappa.
A Taste of Culture, a Special Treat
Small is beautiful – that is what best describes Austrian wine, when put into international perspective. There are no run of the mill wines, but rather a rare speciality. Austrian wine is one of the most interesting phenomena happening in the world right now. The wines are found on every good wine list, are appreciated by wine experts and highly acclaimed by journalists. It is not uncommon to talk of an Austrian wine wonder.
What is it, that makes Austrian wines so special? There are many reasons and the sum of all these factors has paved the path for the sensational quality boom over the past couple of decades. A prime reason is a tradition of winemaking, and grapevines have been cultivated in the same viticultural regions to be found in today’s Austria for many thousands of years. Vines are synonymous with the landscape, the culture and daily life. This also applies to the typical Austrian grape varieties, and there are widespread plantings in the regional wine-growing areas. Coupled with ideal geological and climatic elements, the vines enjoy the best conditions essential for making authentic, distinctive wines with character and personality.
The concept behind this success story plays a vital role. The Austrian vintners and producers have all comprehended how important it is to successfully combine traditional viticulture with modern vinification processes. The motto is, quality without compromise and the result was success without exception.
Another significance is the diversity of Austrian wine culture, from lively, light-bodied examples to monumental, opulent whites wines, as well as charming, fruity to full-bodied, red wines with long cellaring potential. Last, but not least, a wide variety of enticing and elegant sweet wines, that are certainly amongst the world’s best. What wine critics across the globe appreciate the most, is that Austrian wines are exceptionally appetizing and pair wonderfully with food, making Austrian wine sheer drinking pleasure.
Niederösterreich is Austria’s largest quality-wine-growing area. This designation stands for a big variety of different wine styles of international and indigenous grape varieties with Grüner Veltliner covering 44%. There are eight specific wine-growing regions in Niederösterreich, stretching from the Wachau in the west to Carnuntum in the east. These can be divided into three major climatic zones: the Weinviertel in the north, the region along the river Danube, with its adjoining valleys to the west of Vienna, and the warmer Pannonian part in the south-east of Niederösterreich.
Full-bodied and rich red wines are produced under the influence of the hot, continental Pannonian climate, in the eastern region of Burgenland. Within this area, there are many distinctions that play an equally important role. For example, the Eisenberg hill in the most southerly part of Burgenland, enjoys a complex soil structure and touch of refreshing climatic influences from neighbouring Steiermark, that provide ideal growing conditions for Blaufränkisch and other red wine varieties with fine mineral characters and unmatched elegance.
There are undoubtedly other wine-growing regions with more weighty and alcohol-richer wines, but seldom does a region offer such a brilliantly fresh and elegant style of region-typical wines as in southern Steiermark.