Major Wine Regions
French wine is produced in several regions throughout France, in quantities between 50 and 60 million hectolitres per year, or 7–8 billion bottles. France has the world’s second-largest total vineyard area, behind Spain, and is in the position of being the world’s largest wine producer losing it once (in 2008) to Italy. French wine traces its history to the 6th century BC, with many of France’s regions dating their wine-making history to Roman times. The wines produced today range from expensive high-end wines sold internationally, to more modest wines usually only seen within France.
Two concepts central to higher end French wines are the notion of “terroir”, which links the style of the wines to the specific locations where the grapes are grown and the wine is made, and the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system. Appellation rules closely define which grape varieties and winemaking practices are approved for classification in each of France’s several hundred geographically defined appellations, which can cover entire regions, individual villages or even specific vineyards.
France is the source of many grape varieties (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah) that are now planted throughout the world, as well as wine-making practices and styles of wine that have been adopted in other producing countries. Although some producers have benefited in recent years from rising prices and increased demand for some of the prestige wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux, the French wine industry as a whole has been influenced by a decline in domestic consumption as well as growing competition from both the New World and other European countries.
Italian wine is wine produced in Italy, a country which is home to some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. Italy is the world’s largest wine producer, responsible for approximately one-fifth of world wine production in 2005. Italian wine is exported largely around the world and has market share of over 10% in most Asian countries like India. Wine is extremely popular in Italy. Italians lead the world in wine consumption by volume with 70 literes per capita consumption, compared to 25 litres in the US, 20 litres in Australia, 40 millilitres in China and 9 millilitres in India. Grapes are grown in almost every region of the country. More than 1 million vineyards are under cultivation.
Etruscans and Greek settlers produced wine in the country long before the Romans started developing their own vineyards in the 2nd century BC. Roman grape-growing and winemaking was prolific and well-organized, pioneering large-scale production and storage techniques like barrel-making and bottling.
Spanish wines (Spanish: vino español ) are wines produced in the southwestern European country of Spain. Located on the Iberian Peninsula, Spain has over 2.9 million acres (over 1.17 million hectares) planted—making it the most widely planted wine producing nation but it is the third largest producer of wine in the world, the largest being France followed by Italy. This is due, in part, to the very low yields and wide spacing of the old vines planted on the dry, infertile soil found in many Spanish wine regions. The country is ninth in worldwide consumptions with Spaniards drinking, on average, 10.06 gallons (38 liters) a year. The country has an abundance of native grape varieties, with over 400 varieties planted throughout Spain though 80 percent of the country’s wine production is from only 20 grapes—including Tempranillo, Albariño, Garnacha, Palomino, Airen, Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel·lo, Cariñena and Monastrell.
Major Spanish wine regions include the Rioja and Ribera del Duero which is known for their Tempranillo production; Jerez, the home of the fortified wine Sherry; Rías Baixas in the northwest region of Galicia that is known for its white wines made from Albariño and Catalonia which includes the Cava and still wine producing regions of the Penedès as well the Priorat region.
German wine is primarily produced in the west of Germany, along the river Rhine and its tributaries, with the oldest plantations going back to the Roman era. Approximately 60 percent of the German wine production is situated in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, where 6 of the 13 regions (Anbaugebiete) for quality wine are situated. Germany has about 102,000 hectares (252,000 acres or 1,020 square kilometers) of vineyard, which is around one tenth of the vineyard surface in Spain, France or Italy. The total wine production is usually around 9 million hectoliters annually, corresponding to 1.2 billion bottles, which places Germany as the eighth largest wine-producing country in the world. White wine accounts for almost two thirds of the total production.
As a wine country, Germany has a mixed reputation internationally, with some consumers on the export markets associating Germany with the world’s most elegant and aromatically pure white wines while other see the country mainly as the source of cheap, mass-market semi-sweet wines such as Liebfraumilch. Among enthusiasts, Germany’s reputation is primarily based on wines made from the Riesling grape variety, which at its best is used for aromatic, fruity and elegant white wines that range from very crisp and dry to well-balanced, sweet and of enormous aromatic concentration. While primarily a white wine country, red wine production surged in the 1990s and early 2000s, primarily fuelled by domestic demand, and the proportion of the German vineyards devoted to the cultivation of dark-skinned grape varieties has now stabilized at slightly more than a third of the total surface. For the red wines, Spätburgunder, the domestic name for Pinot Noir, is in the lead.
Austrian wines are mostly dry white wines (often made from the Grüner Veltliner grape) with some luscious dessert wines made around the Neusiedler See. About 30% of the wines are red, made from Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger, or as Kékfrankos in neighbouring Hungary), Pinot Noir and locally bred varieties such as Zweigelt. Four thousand years of winemaking history counted for little after the “antifreeze scandal” of 1985, when it was revealed that some wine brokers had been adulterating their wines with diethylene glycol. The scandal destroyed the market for Austrian wine, but in the long term has been a force for good, compelling Austria to tackle low standards of bulk wine production, and reposition itself as a producer of quality wines that stand comparison with the best in the world. The country is also home to Riedel, makers of some of the most expensive wine glasses in the world.