Renowned scientist Louis Pasteur once said: “a bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world.” Certainly, a bottle of wine contains more than simple fermented fruit juice. It’s a heritage; a tangible fragment of the culture and history of the place whence it came; each drop a testament to the rich traditions and beautiful locales of its area of origin. And in Louis Pasteur’s case, the secret to saving the literal lives of millions by devising a sterilization process to ensure a product, like milk or wine, is safe for consumption.
In an ancient civilization of China, around the years 7000 to 6600 BCE, the Jiahu tribe in the Yellow River Valley (now Henan province) produced the oldest known wines from fermented rice, honey, or fruits, predominantly grapes. Within a few millennia, the middle eastern regions that is now modern Georgia were also producing their own grape wines and cultivating their unique viniculture. Further down the road in the year 4000 BCE in the same region of Georgia, Armenia, and Iran, this middle eastern civilization has mastered its winemaking practices and has established dedicated winemaking facilities to produce its liquor, which, in the case of Aremnia’s Areni-1, still holds strong evidence of said ancient wine production, over 6000 years later, today. Likewise holding on to their glorious past is Georgia who, to this day, still retains its age-old winemaking practices of using massive earthenware vessels called Kveveri, and burying those underground for the fermentation process.
In 1600 to 1100 BCE, the continent of Africa has made a trade of its wine industry, with regions like the New Kingdom of Egypt, Assyria, and Mesopotamia showing signs of having transported wines in amphora or goatskins. And as people immigrate and emigrate through the course of history, so did their wines and winemaking practices. The lands of the west presumably welcomed the wine culture thanks largely in part to adventurous Phoenicians who left their little nook in the Mediterranean city-states to settle in what is now the region of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine. A sophisticated method of preservation allowed these enterprising voyagers to transport their goods across long distances through a layer of olive oil that protects wines from oxidation, topped with a seal of pinewood and resin. So good was this preservation method, that when an expedition from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology fished out two Phoenician shipwrecks in 1999, an entire wine cargo all the way back from 750 BCE was still fully intact.
And as civilizations evolved, their winemaking practices naturally evolved as well. Where before people stored wine in giant earthen jars or containers crafted from animal hides, eventually a new method of storing wine was developed: the famous wine barrels. We may have first seen these rounded containers as kids in our favorite morning cartoons, where someone would inevitably topple an entire crater of them and comically run across the barrel’s length like a hamster in a wheel. In reality, closed barrels have been around the winemaking world since 900 BCE, or the Iron Age in Northern Europe (open “barrels”, or wooden buckets, had been used by the Egyptians since 2960 BCE).
Originally, it was only because it was more practical to crate around wooden containers that could be tossed and tussled in transfer and transport without breaking as easily as their clay counterparts. Later on, people discovered that barrel-enclosed wines develop a deeper flavor and aroma than others because the wooden containers themselves altered the composition of the liquor contents, both due to their physical structure and chemical compounds. To this day, we still use wooden barrels, oak in particular, for the same reasons. As wine spread out all across the globe geographically and culturally, it has steadily become a staple piece of history. From Greek philosophers, to Egyptian queens, to French emperors, to just about everyone in between, wine has become a part of everyday life in all corners of the world.
But while wine may have its origins in the lands of the east, the modern day winery landscape is dominated by western countries. Leading that are the European powerhouses of France, Italy, and Spain, whose winemaking prowess are so in demand that they generally produce around half of the world’s wines. Even so, quality can come from anywhere and countries far away from these three European nations are beginning to make a name for themselves in the global stage. Here are the parts of the world any wine lover should definitely take note of.
This vivacious South American nation is one of the world’s top wine producers, accounting for the fifth largest volume produced in the world, behind only France, Italy, Spain, and the USA. Having held this honor for several years now, Argentina has gradually begun to follow in its best competitor’s footsteps, and has shifted the industry’s focus from high quantity, low quality wines (hence, the number of its global sales), to lesser volume, but better varieties of liquor. And with this change in priorities, Argentinian wine is steadily becoming more and more recognizable in tables across the globe.
Of all the world-class wines that the country has produced over the centuries, Argentina’s pride and joy remains to be Malbec. A rich, earthy wine, whose sultry flavor and aroma strongly depend on the region of origin, Malbec comes from a purple grape variety originally from southwest France. In the colder and wetter French climate, the Malbec grape was only a minor variety that did not flourish. Instead, it found its home in the dry, arid deserts of Argentina, where the absence of humidity afforded it the time it needed to take soil and thrive. Today, Argentina holds the largest acreage of Malbec in the world, and the wine has become truly and uniquely Argentine. Characteristic of the country’s dry climate, Malbec, as well as other local varieties like Torrontés and Bonarda, carry distinct, earthen undertones that enrich and warm the liquors’ flavors and aromas. In addition to these, Argentine soil also nurtures other prominent grape varieties like the local pink skin grapes of Cereza and Criolla Grande, as well as immigrant breeds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and others.
Wine lovers of the world would be remiss not to include Argentina on their itinerary, with the South American country housing some of the most prolific and picturesque winemaking regions in the world. Mendoza is the country’s most famous wine region, hosting some of Argentina’s most prolific wineries like Clos de los Siete and Carmelo Patti. Mendoza province is regarded as the heart of Argentinian winemaking, and produces around two-thirds of the nation’s overall wines.
Salta is another prominent Argentine wine region, best known for its intense terrains that still contrive to produce some of the nation’s best tasting liquors. The border region of San Juan likewise thrives on agriculture, with wine production being among its top economic activities, thanks largely to its fertile valleys that allow grapes and other fruits to flourish. Finally, the province of La Rioja is another of Argentina’s leading wine regions, with nearly 20,000 acres of vineyard to its name. La Rioja enjoys a dry and warm climate, with the mornings being sunny enough to nurture its crops, and the evenings cooling down to allow wine grapes to remain fresh.
This country’s rich and dynamic liquor culture is vividly encapsulated in every bottle of Australian wine that it exports. In fact, Australia, like Argentina, is another top wine-producing and -exporting nation in the world, tallying about 780 million litres a year as of 2012. Of this literage, Aussies have shown the most favor for their own local products, with Australians consuming over half of that literage.
To the rest of the world, Aussie wine is best known for its affordable bottles and beginner-friendly flavors. Most of these are generically labelled from “South East Australia”, which could refer to any number of winemaking regions in the country. Even so, each region proudly boasts of its own distinct product, every one unique to the locale’s climate and environs like the rugged Shiraz from the Barossa Valley, the cool Chardonnay of Limestone Coast, or the classic Merlot of Mudgee. South Australian regions are in particular are among the best winemaking areas in the country, with Adelaide leading as the largest wine growing region in all of Australia. New South Wales is another prominent area, best known for its Chardonnay and Shiraz production. Another region to take note of Victoria, whose cooler climates have led to some truly excellent Pinot Noir.
Australia is blessed with about 130 varieties of grape vines which local manufacturers certainly take advantage of. Of these, its Syrah, locally rebranded as the “Shiraz”, is its most successful and important variety. In fact, the Australian take on the classic Syrah had been such a hit, that manufacturers from far reaches of the globe have also begun to use the new term to refer to their own Syrah. Other than this, Australia’s prominent grape varieties are their Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and other immigrant grapes. It is worth noting that although Australia abundantly grows numerous grape varieties, none of them are actually native, and wine practices in the country only started when the Vitis vinera (common grape vine) was introduced between the late 1700s to early 1800s. Since then, however, Australia has begun to breed its own, mostly as a combination of immigrant varieties, like Cienna and Tarrango.
Truly, Australia’s robust winemaking industry, coupled with its inexpensive selections, brings a taste of the world’s best to many a dinner table around the globe.
The adventurous origin of Chile’s first vineyards has translated into equally colorful and eclectic flavors and varieties of wine that the nation has now become known for. Spanish conquistadors first brought the common grape vine to Chilean lands in the 16th century, and by the 19th century, the selection has expanded to include French varieties that, to this day, remains to be some of the best wines Chile is known for.
Chilean wines are cultivated in one of the world’s most unique natural environs. The country is located in an inherently warm region just south of the equator, but it is bordered by expansive mountain ranges that creates a buffer from its neighbors, making it colder than it would otherwise be. Additionally, Chile’s coastlines stretch considerably, giving the country’s regions greatly varying climates. All this combined allows Chile to grow an abundant variety of grapes, in excellent conditions that let them flourish and ripen magnificently. And although the nation has not always taken advantage of this, the 1980s has seen a renaissance in Chile’s winemaking practices. Today, Chilean wines like Cabernet Sauvignons of Aconcagua Valley, Gold Reserve of Carmen, Casa Real of Santa Rita, among others, are slowly making a name for themselves in the world for their distinct, subtle earthy hints that are unlike the flamboyant flavors of most New World wines, and their capacity for mid- to long-term aging.
Chile’s rich soils have also proven to be fertile grounds in which other international grape varieties can grow well. In addition to the abovementioned, Chile also cultivates white wine grapes like Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling, as well as reds like Merlot and even the rare Syrah. And much like Argentina has truly owned the Malbec, another French grape wine has crossed the ocean to find its new home in the warmer regions of Chile. Carménère originated from Bordeaux, France, and was even regarded to be one of the original six red grapes of Boudreaux, but now hardly grows in the area. Instead, this red grape wine now grows in abundance in nearly 10,000 hectares of Chilean vineyards, and has even come to be regarded as the national symbol for Chilean wines. It has a sweet and spicy taste, and relatively lower tannin levels that makes it blend milder and lighter, and is best consumed while young.
The Chilean regions that should be on any wine lover’s global itinerary include the famous Colchagua Valley, best known for their exquisite Carménère, Syrah, and Malbec; the historic Maipo Valley, with its lovely Cabernets; the romantic Casablanca valley, with its Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Noirs, and other whites; and the Limari Valley to the north, whose unique microclimate has produced some remarkable white wines.
South African wines have historically been some of the best in the world, and after several centuries, that same world-class quality is now slowly but steadily making a comeback. The colorful nation of South Africa is once again taking advantage of its opulent lands and natural environs to cultivate and produce high quality, high-valued red and white wines.
Today, South Africa is among the top ten wine producers globally. Its reds and whites are gracing the store shelves and dinner tables all over the world as more and more people fall in love with the sultry, complex flavors that can only come from a Mediterrenean of intense sunlight and dry heat. South Africa’s best red wines include its very own Cabernet Sauvignon, whose deeper flavors make it a distinct alternative to its fruiter peers, with its unique underlying of spices that superbly blend with its natural fruit flavors. South African Syrah has likewise become a crowd favorite because of its dark spiced fruit flavor and unusual chocolatey texture, which makes for a truly sensual liquor unlike anything else.
Pinotage is a uniquely South African product, combining Pinot Noir and Cinsault to create a wholly new variety of distinct fruity flavors, underscored by smoky, earthen tones of spiced chocolate and tobacco. Other South African reds include the Merlot, often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon but also comes in single-variety, Pinot Noir, Malbec, and many more. South Africa also offers a delicious range of whites, which includes Chenin Blanc, from its most planted grape variety; Colombard, which is often used to compound other liquors like Chenin Blanc or brandy; Sauvignon Blanc, which shares many similarities to New Zealand variants; and others.
South Africa has three distinct wine regions, defined in the Wyn van Oorsprong (“Wine of Origin”) act of 1973, which is a system slightly similar to the French appellations. South African wines are labelled depending on the region from which its grapes came from, but other categories present in the French appellation system, including quality and rank, do not apply. The Western Cape, which hosts the districts of Boberg, Breede River Valley, Cape South Coast, Coastal Region, Klein Karoo, and Olifants River; the Northern Cape; and the Eastern Cape are Africa’s winemaking areas, each with their own unique specialties.
The third winemaking powerhouse on this list boasts of an acreage of nearly 3 million acres dedicated solely to cultivating wines. With Spain’s long and colorful history, it comes as no surprise that Spanish wines are equally bold and vivacious.
The country’s natural geographic and climatic conditions make the Spanish viticulture a rich and flourishing practice. Numerous grape varieties thrive in Spanish soil, like its most famous reds, Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Monastrell and well-known whites from Galicia, Palomino, Airen, and Macabeo.
As a major winemaking nation, there are several regions in Spain that produce their own variety of wines, largely based on their native crops, their natural environs, and the climate that they experience. As a country, Spanish landscapes can be greatly diverse from one another, making for a broader range of offerings. Of note, the northwest region (Galicia) enjoys lush greeneries and abundantly grows the Albariño grape variety, letting them produce their signature, piquant whites. Next, the Mediterranean coast (Valencia, Catalonia, Murcia) has led to some of Spain’s most fertile grounds, which are conducive for the production of Spanish sparkling wine, Cava, and their prized red wine, Priorat. The Ebro River Valley (La Rioja, Navarra) proudly produces Tempranillo, and rosé wines from the Garnacha grape. The climate in this region allows its winemakers to vary the aging of the same kind of wine, creating more sub-variations.
Another region is the Duero River Valley (Verdejo, Toro, RIbera del Duero, Leon), most notable for their spirited white and red wines. Next is the Central Plateau, one of the most important locations in the entire country, which hosts the capital of Madrid. As its name suggests, the region is elevated, with a dry and sunny climate, allowing for some of Spain’s most prized grape varieties to thrive. The historic Andalucía is another noteworthy region, best known for its Sherry, whose hot lands give its wines deep, earthy flavors. And lastly, the Islands (including the Canary Islands) have a diverse range of products that include reds, dessert wines, among others.
Spanish reds can be excellent entry-level wines. Tempranillo is a sweet red that can either come as young, having been aged for only a handful of years to capture that new, tart, tangy flavor, or as aged, with several years in oak or bottle to provide a softer, more sophisticated essence, tempering down the spiciness of the young Tempranillo to an almost mellow, sweet flavor. In the same way, another Spanish red, Garnacha, also comes in two varieties, with young Garnacha bearing smoother, more saccharine flavoring, as opposed to high-end Garacha, which carries high tannin for deeper, earthier flavors. Other Spanish reds are also noted for their earthy undertones and almost spicy flavors, in addition to their generally budget-friendly prices.
But an affordable price tag does not mean compromised quality, in the case of the Spanish wine. An elaborate and rigid set of qualifications, strictly implemented by a governing body, ensures that every bottle of Spanish wine is up to grade. Like France and Italy, Spain has its own system of appellation known as Denominación de Origen (DO) for more generic varieties, and Denominaciones de Origen Calificadas (DOCa) for higher-quality wines. Similar to previously discussed systems, the goal of the DO is to evaluate Spanish wine for the conditions in which they were produced, considering things like the grapes used, the ageing period, economic factors, label details, etc. A DO label ensures that the wine is of sound quality, making it the more favorable option to consumers.
Last on our list of the wines of the world are the bold and vivacious offerings of the United States. As another major wine-producing nation, the US indeed has some of the best selections available on the market, most notably from the arid deserts of California, who produce about 90% of America’s wines.
It is worth noting that while American winemaking practices were originated by European settlers, the North American continent itself is home to many species of grapes used extensively in the industry. Such is an excellent combination that allowed the US winemaking industry to really flourish over the years. Today, all 50 states of the US produce their own varieties of wine, making for a truly diverse viticulture. Leading in production, by a massive margin, is California, who most notably produces fruity Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. The remaining 10% of American wines comes from the other 49 states, who produce their own reds, whites, and unique products like the resilient Norton or Chambourcin, who thrive in the cold, northeast climate.
Like the winemaking powerhouses from across the pond, the US has its own appellation system to categorize its products. The American Viticultural Area (AVA) system originated in the 1980s, and evaluates the wines that come from these designated locations. Each AVA is a known grape-growing area, whose distinct facets, like geographic and cultural elements, play a role in the production of its wine. Unlike its European counterparts, however, AVAs are not actually used to determine the quality of a product, and the system is mainly used to state the origin of the wine. One thing to note, however, is that the AVA system can have sub-categories exist within one system, independent of other AVAs. Within these sub-appellations, regions may rank their wines based on quality and other regulations, but these qualifications don’t necessarily apply to other AVAs.
While California has certainly made a name for itself, not only in the United States but in the global scene as well, other winemaking states and regions are also to be commended for their excellent work. In addition to the world-famous Napa Valley and Sonoma of Northern California, wine-lovers should also take note of Washington State, with its 14 AVAs that include Walla Walla and Columbia Valley, and its whites like Riesling and reds like Merlot; Oregon, with its colder climate that produces a fantastic Gamay; New York State, with the scenic Finger Lakes and historic North Fork; and many more.
Some of the most notable American wines are produced in these regions, like the opulent Cabernet Sauvignon of California, the tropical Pinot Gris of Oregon, Washington State’s vivacious Syrah, and many more.
At home here, in the Philippines, where the drinking culture is equally lively and colorful, wine is gradually becoming a staple in Filipino banquets and dinner tables alike. The sweet and aromatic flavors of wines is a mellow counterpoint to the stronger liquors of the Philippines, and it is a taste that is certainly right at home with people known for their sweet tooth.
Wines from the United States are a particular favorite among Filipinos. Since 2009, the Philippines has been the US’ largest Southeast Asian market, and Filipinos still crave more. Reds are quite popular with the public, whose longstanding preference for harder liquors mean the deeper and stronger flavors of red wines hold more appeal than the mellower taste of whites and rosés. Even so, all three varieties have found their own following among the Filipino people. Reds like Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and ZInfandel are found to be the top favorites among locals. For whites, Filipinos are partial to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, and Gewürtzaminer. Rosés like White Zinfandel and White Merlot are likewise popular.
And in the true adventurous spirit of the Filipino, locals are more than game to try new flavors. The above listed have easily found acceptance in Philippine tables because of their naturally sweeter tendencies, but Filipinos are showing strong signs of shifting to other, more mature tastes as the wine industry becomes more and more mainstream in the country.
The wines of the world may share histories, traditions, and even aspects of their flavors, but there is no denying that each and every region brings something unique and spectacular to the table. From the classic French wines to the rising South African varieties, there is an entire world of selection to indulge in.