Wine Lovers are always striving to find the tastiest wines from the best wine regions of the world. If you’re a true vino connoisseur, you will be more than happy to hop on a plane and jet off to the many wine regions of the world to find the perfect taste. You may wonder – What qualifications does The Vino Vault have for grading the best wine regions in the world? We’re no dummies – we’re looking to Conde Nast Traveler and many of the country’s leading wine know-it-alls and experts on the particular regions to give us the lowdown on the most interesting, unusual, and unexpected. So Wine Lovers Abroad – Introducing the Best Wine Regions!
This Swiss canton may be best known for its upscale ski resorts, and their outstanding chocolates; but it’s also where some of Switzerland’s finest wines are made—especially in the northern Bündner Herrschaft area. If you’re going for the wine and not the slopes, the best time to visit is late spring and summer when you’ll be greeted by classic alpine landscapes, bright green valleys, and snow-capped peaks. Switzerland may not be the most famous of wine-producing nations, but this small, mountainous country in western Europe has been making wine for more than two thousand years. Swiss wine’s lack of fame is not due to any lack of quality or quantity, but because it is produced mostly for (and consumed happily by) the Swiss themselves.
Entirely landlocked, Switzerland finds itself sandwiched between Germany, Italy, Austria and France – to the north, south, east and west respectively. Its culture is clearly influenced by each of these neighbors, most obviously in its languages (German, French and Italian are all official national languages here) but also in its wines. The Germanic wine influence is demonstrated by a preference for varietal winemaking and crisp, refreshing wine styles, and is most prevalent in the German-speaking north between Zurich and the Rhine. French influences are felt throughout the country, but most keenly in the French-speaking south-west, in Geneva, Vaud and Valais. The nation’s favorite grape varieties – Chasselas, Pinot Noir, Gamay and Merlot – are all of French origin.
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Less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne, the mellow hills surrounding the Yarra river conjure one of the most idyllic wine country landscapes in Australia. Although wine’s been made here for more than 180 years, the Yarra Valley is only recently being recognized by sommeliers for its premium bottles and natural winemaking. Elevation and cooler climates—there are cross-country ski resorts on nearby Lake Mountain—create the perfect terroir for beautiful chardonnays and pinot noirs. And when you’re not winery hopping, there’s plenty of hiking and biking to keep you on the go.
Australia is an extremely important wine producing country, both in terms of quality and the scale of its wine economy. Its vast size and huge range of climatic and geographical conditions, makes it one of the most versatile wine-growing countries in the world. In 2018, Australia was the sixth largest wine producer in the world. In that year output was 341 million US gallons, split 52:48 between red and white. In 2015 there were just over 334,000 acres of vineyards in Australia. 30 percent of this was planted to Shiraz, 18 percent to Cabernet Sauvignon and 16 percent to Chardonnay. Merlot covered 6 percent and Sauvignon Blanc 5 percent.
As if dramatic cliffs, lake-filled calderas, and pretty fishing villages weren’t reasons enough to travel to the Azores—an archipelago of nine islands in the middle of the Atlantic—there are also great wines to be sipped, made with obscure indigenous grapes. The island of Pico is where most Azorean wine grapes are grown, using volcanic rocks to create low barriers that protect the vines from the harsh island winds. The climate is mild year round, but if you go in the summer right before harvest, you can enjoy a little time in the sun between wine tastings.
For most people, even for many wine experts, Portuguese wine is uncharted territory. Aside from Port, the occasional bottle of Vinho Verde, or even Mateus Rosé, it’s rare to stumble upon Portuguese wine outside of a specialist shop. Even then you’re only really likely to find a few bottles of Portuguese wine and, so few that Portugal is rarely even given it’s own section: normally they’re lumped in the Spanish section. Portuguese wine is definitely worth exploring, though. For serious wine lovers it’s an exciting country to navigate as the wine is usually made from grape varieties that aren’t really found anywhere else in the world.
Duh – of course France! The wines of Savoie in the southeast of France near the Italian and Swiss border “smell like the opening scene of The Sound of Music!” says Matt Tunstall, co-owner of Stems and Skins in Charleston. “The whites especially have an alpine-meadow freshness and floral aromas.” Local grapes like Jacquère, Roussette, and Chasselas (all white) and the Mondeuse and Gamay red grapes are grown at the foot of the Alps at significant altitudes, which give the wines—including the reds—a light, aromatic quality. Young, enthusiastic winemakers have infused new energy into the wines of this region—once known mainly as light après-ski drinks—making them food-friendly with strong characters and aging potential. Seek out the Domaine du Cellier Des Cray and be sure to taste their Clemence made with 100 percent Roussette, a lovely wine that’s complex and textured while remaining light. Pack it in your picnic basket along with some the local cheeses during prime season in the spring and summer. Or—why not?—enjoy it après ski if you visit in the winter.
Savoie is a wine region in eastern France, in the mountainous areas just south of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) and the border with Switzerland. The region’s location and geography have very much defined its character, which is fragmented, hilly and slightly Swiss. This is evident in the fresh, crisp white wines made here, as well as in the region’s wine labels. Many bear a white cross on a red background – the flag of both Switzerland and Savoie.
Around three-quarters of the region’s wines are white. This is primarily because most red varieties would struggle to ripen properly in Savoie’s cooler climate. Jacquère is the most widely planted white grape variety, due to its high yield. Altesse, known traditionally here as Roussette, is used to produce some of Savoie’s finer wines, specifically under its own Roussette de Savoie and Roussette de Bugey appellations. Roussanne (known locally as Bergeron) also has its own tiny niche just south of Chambéry, where it produces exclusively Chignin-Bergeron wines.
As in many other areas of France, Chardonnay is increasingly being planted in Savoie. It is used in still and also sparkling wines, notably under the Bugey Cerdon appellation. Although Savoie is dominated by white wines, it does have a standout red variety: Mondeuse. This is used to produce deeply-colored, peppery wines with a trademark bitterness. Gamay and Pinot Noir are also employed, mostly in varietal wines. These are lighter in style than their respective counterparts in Beaujolais and Burgundy.
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There are so many Chilean wine regions, it can be hard to stay focused when planning a trip. Ryan Plas, “The Wine Guy” at Coquette in New Orleans, recommends heading straight to the often overlooked Maule Valley, south of the town of Talca. Here, he says, “I tasted wines made with grapes that seemed to have found their sense of place, particularly old vines of the pais grape.” Pais is a red wine grape that has been grown in Chile for centuries but lost favor to international varieties like cabernet sauvignon and has since been used primarily to make jug wine. T
Chile is one of South America’s most important wine-producing countries. Occupying a thin strip down the western coast of the continent, it is home to a wide range of terroirs, and an equally wide range of wine styles. The Chilean viticultural industry is often associated in export markets with consistent, good-value wines, but some world-class reds are also made, commanding high prices. For red wines the initial export mainstays have been Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Like many New World countries Chile has adopted a signature grape variety; here it is Carmenère, once widely grown in Bordeaux. Pinot Noir from the cooler parts of Chile is beginning to make an impression, and Syrah is increasing in popularity in many regions offering a wide variety of styles. The supporting cast of red wine grape varieties in Chile includes additional bit-part players from Bordeaux; Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Emphasis on the latter has increased in the light of Argentina’s success with the variety, though plantings in Chile date back to the 19th Century. Cinsaut and Carignan join Syrah in the Southern French contingent.
White wine plantings are led by Chardonnay – also grown in many differing macroclimates – which can achieve very high quality levels with prices to match, and Sauvignon Blanc. Viognier, Riesling and Semillon are among those varieties grown on a smaller scale.
Thank GOD somewhere in the US made this list, right? Can you believe it’s not Napa? Overshadowed by Napa and Sonoma, this wine region is one of the oldest in the country, which gained international recognition in the legendary 1976 Judgment of Paris, a blind tasting where California reds and whites outperformed their French counterparts. The roads wind up and down the mountains through redwood and eucalyptus groves, making you forget you’re in the heart of Silicon Valley. This also means the wineries are spread apart, so you can only visit a couple per day without feeling rushed.
California is the largest and most important wine region in the USA. It accounts for the southern two-thirds (850 miles or 1370 kilometers) of the country’s west coast. (Oregon and Washington make up the rest.) The state also spans almost ten degrees of latitude. With mountains, valleys, plains and plateaux, California’s topography is as complex as its climate, offering winegrowers a bewildering choice of terroir.
Californian wines only rose to global renown in the past few decades (notably after the Paris Judgment of 1976). However the state’s viticultural history dates back more than 200 years. European vines were first planted here in the 18th Century, as settlers and missionaries made their way up and down the west coast. They brought with them the Mission grape – the vinifera variety also instrumental in establishing viniculture in Central and South America. Although very few Mission vines are to be found in California today, it remains a cornerstone of Californian wine.
The first half of the 20th Century brought war, Prohibition and the Great Depression to the United States. Collectively these suffocated the nation’s wine industry. It wasn’t until the significant social, cultural and economic developments that followed World War 2 that things began to change. In the 1970s, Californian wine industry leaders brought about renewed winemaking passion in other US states, in turn sparking the national wine renaissance. This period saw a proliferation of new, small-scale wineries throughout the country and the upscaling of longer-established operations. Momentum has continued into the 21st century.
Today, California hosts some of the world’s largest wine companies. It is also home to a number of boutique wineries, some of which attract astronomical prices for their cult wines. Whether through mass production or single-vineyard artisanal winemaking, California produces 90 percent of American-made wine. It also supplies more than 60 percent of all wine consumed in the country. A record 211.9 million cases were produced in 2011.
The principal varieties grown in California are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. A wide range of traditional European (Vitis vinifera) vines also flourish, including Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah. Zinfandel can also be included in the list as it is genetically identical to Tribidrag in Croatia and Primitivo in Italy. Among white grape varieties Sauvignon Blanc is a distant second to Chardonnay. These are grafted to hardy American rootstocks which are resistant to phylloxera.
So there you have it, Wine Lovers! Book your ticket and start hitting those best wine regions in the world.
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