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Wine Regions of the World

by Staff Writer - B. Shaughnessy | July 01, 2011

Wine is a drink that is enjoyed throughout the world for most of recorded history. Wine has existed in some form from the dawn of civilization through modern times. Ancient civilizations recognized the vine as a source of both food & wine production. Specific grape varieties as well as winemaking techniques were promoted and the art of winemaking grew. With human exploration and expansion throughout the ages, various grape varieties were introduced to new regions and in some cases new varieties were discovered from new regions. In addition, winemaking techniques were developed and introduced during various human expansions. Naturally, differences in growing conditions as well as winemaking techniques have lead to many different types of wine being produced in many different parts of the world.

Each wine you drink will be unique as no two wines are alike. This has to do with a number of conditions found in the winemaking process. Conditions which effect wine production include climate, soil type and grape variety. When taken together, these conditions are responsible for the distinctiveness of a wine. This combination of conditions is known as Terroir. Terroir is an important concept to understand as different wine producing regions have different climates, soil types and grape varieties. In the end, a unique Terroir is responsible for the properties of a particular wine.

In modern times wine is produced in all different parts of the world. Traditional wine regions include the European countries of France and Italy while modern regions include the United States, Chile and Australia. Each region has a specific Terroir and produces wines that are truly exceptional.

Because wine has a rich and noble history it is only logical that some of the finest wines come from regions that have the most experience in wine making. Regions with rich winemaking history have been engaged in winemaking for ages and are referred to as Old World. Old World regions include countries such as France, Italy, and Spain. France is the country that sets the standard concerning the production of awe-inspiring wines and as such is an example for both wine producers and enthusiasts. Legally, French vineyards must conform to a regional based appellation system for the production and labeling of wines. Wine regions in France include Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, The Rhone Valley, Southern France, Alsace, and The Loire Valley. The Bordeaux region is known for its blended red wines while the Burgundy region is known for its excellent red and white wines. Wines from the Rhone valley are known to have a unique spicy perfumed attribute when compared to Bordeaux and Burgundy. The Loire Valley region and the Alsace region are both known for their exceptional white wines. The Champagne region needs no introduction as this is where the sparkling white wine was developed and technically only true Champagne comes from this region. Finally, while not traditionally as high regarded as their northern counterparts, wineries in Southern France have embraced newer winemaking technology and are producing top quality red and white wines.

While recent history has shown France to be the epicenter for wine producers and enthusiasts, it is important to remember that Italy has a very rich history with respect to high quality wines. More than anyone else, The Roman Empire was responsible for the spread and development of the vine throughout the ancient world. Roman wine making techniques set the standard for wine production that for the most part remained unchanged until modern times. This heritage is reflected in the fact that Italy stands out as a country responsible for the production of wines that are truly works of art. Italy like France uses an appellation system based on region and can be broken up into four key regions: Northwest Italy, Northeast Italy, Central Italy, and Southern Italy. The Northwest region of Italy is known for the production of the dry Barolo red wine. Northeast Italy is known for its array of indigenous and international grape varieties that have lead to many different distinct wines being produced. Central Italy is home to the familiar Chianti and finally Southern Italy much like Southern France has only recently been producing top quality wines.

Earlier, we discussed how Terroir effects the production of wine. As we begin to look at Spain, it is important to realize that most of Spain's climate is considerably warmer than the climates found in Italy or France. Therefore, until modern technology and winemaking techniques were introduced, Spain was not known for high quality wine production. However, with the recent technological advances in winemaking Spain has produced some truly wonderful wines. Spanish wines are traditionally aged for longer periods and thus develop unique flavors and properties during this process. Also like France and Italy, Spain utilizes an appellation system based on region. Spain's winemaking regions include: the North East regions, the North West regions, the Central Spain region and the South Spain region. North East Spain is home to the Rioja region and is famous for producing age worthy red wines. The North West region is best known for Vega Sicilia, Spain's top red wine. Central Spain has a hot dry climate not conducive for producing top quality wines. However, the use of newer winemaking techniques has resulted in the production of decent inexpensive red wines. Finally, the South of Spain is known for the production of quality Sherry.

France, Italy and Spain are just a few of the Old World countries responsible for producing wines. Other European countries such as Greece, Germany, Austria, and Portugal are responsible for wine production. Taking into account Terroir, each of the before mentioned countries have their own unique top quality wines.

A new chapter in the history of wine was started during the great expansions of the 18th and 19th centuries. As European influence spread around the world so too did the vine. Individuals settling in various parts of the world realized that growing conditions in the New World were very similar to conditions found in many of the Old World regions. Therefore, many recently formed countries discovered the potential of their winemaking ability. These countries are known as New World and are producing wines that rival many Old World wines. New World regions include countries such as the United States, Chile and Australia.

The United States has an interesting winemaking history. Early settlers brought vines for the production of sacramental wines. Beyond this not much was attempted with respect to serious wine growing and production. However, by the end of the 19th century, red wines from California were recognized for their outstanding quality. Unfortunately with the act of Prohibition in the 1920's, the United States wine industry was destroyed and did not fully recover until the 1960's. In post-war prosperity, serious wine growers imported vines from Europe and began producing high quality wines. With the development of newer winemaking techniques and technologies, wines produced in the United States now equal their Old World counterparts in quality. Wine classification in the United States utilizes a varietal appellation system not tied to specific regions. Regardless of this fact, various wine regions do exist in the United States. There are three main regions for wine production found in the United States: the State of California, the Pacific Northwest, and the State of New York. The State of California is known for top quality red and white wines being produced in the Napa Valley and Sonoma County. The Pacific Northwest has a climate very similar to France and the States of Oregon and Washington both produce top quality red and white wines. The State of New York is gaining a reputation in the production of high quality wines due to the climate and soil conditions being similar to regions found in Germany.

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As with the United States, the Chile winemaking industry got its start with the efforts of the early settlers. With a national interest in French culture, European vines were imported in the 19th century and winemaking really took off. Due to a natural climate and isolation, Chile is poised to become a serious producer of quality wines. Already Chile ranks 10th in the world for wine production and with recent foreign investment, Chile's wine industry continues to grow. Chile has several important wine regions that produce top quality wines. They include the Coquimbo regions, the Central Valley regions, and the Southern regions. The Coquimbo regions produce top quality wines from familiar varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The Central Valley regions are home to some of the first serious wineries in Chile and as such produce top quality red and white wines. The Southern Regions have been traditionally dominated by indigenous varieties but recent developments include the introduction of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.

If France has set the standard with respect to Old World wines, one could say the same about Australia with respect to New World wines. An excellent wine growing climate, the adoption of technology and out of the box thinking has resulted in Australia being the fourth biggest exporter of wine in the world. Australia much like the United States and Chile owes its wine industry to the introduction of European grape varieties by settlers. It was not until the 1970's that the modern wine industry was developed. Practices such as utilizing all stainless steel components as well as specific temperature controls contributed to increased quantity and quality. Today Australia has ambitious plans for the expansion of its wine industry and wine exports. Australia like the United States and Chile has several wine growing regions including New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. The region of New South Wales is known for its Chardonnay while the region of Victoria is known for its diversity in grape variety. South Australia is Australia's powerhouse for wine production with huge quantities of diverse wine being produced. Western Australia is known to produce Australia's only Zinfandel while Tasmania is known for its production of Champagne.

There are numerous other New World countries producing quality wines. Other countries include Argentina, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand. Each country has an interesting history behind their winemaking industry as well as quality wines.

As the enjoyment of wine continues to spread throughout the world so too does the practice of vine growing and wine making. It is only natural to look at where future wine regions will be developed. Countries such as Japan, China and India all have climates conducive for the production of quality wines. The next great chapter of wine history will be written by the developments of these countries over the next 20 to 30 years.

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