Presenters: Subhash Arora, President, Indian Wine Academy
Sourish Bhattacharyya, Executive Director, Indian Wine Academy
Copyright: Indian Wine Academy . Not for publication. Only for internal circulation within Jaypee Vasant and Jaypee Siddharth.
Wine is becoming the preferred alcoholic beverage in an increasing number of countries in the world. Even in Russia , which has traditionally been a nation of vodka drinkers, wine today accounts for 30% of the spending on alcoholic beverages, up from a meagre 3% in 1989.
When you're in Europe or in the U.S. and Canada , or in Japan , Hong Kong , Singapore and Australia , you'll be entertained with wine, and you'll be expected to serve the wine when it's your turn to entertain. Wine is becoming the social lubricant of choice around the world. It's important, therefore, for you to understand this beverage, because it isn't that mysterious as it's made out to be.
The word is derived from vin , the Latin word for vine. We're focusing only on wines made from grapes, because the flavours of the fruit change after fermentation and aging can make the flavours complex.
A vine is the plant and a wine is the product of the grapes that grow on it. Viticulture is the science of cultivating wine grapes, which are different from table grapes, which we're more familiar with. Vinification is the umbrella term used to describe the techniques of wine-making.
A wine is essentially an agricultural product and a number of factors, both natural and human, contribute to its development. These include the climate – exposure to sunshine, day-to-night temperature variations, relative humidity and days with rain; nature of the soil (the less fertile the soil, and the less water it retains, the more effective it is for vine-growing); development of the grapes; and the wine-maker's techniques. Not surprisingly, each wine possesses a distinctive personality, and for the consumer, it's an experience waiting to be discovered.
What is Terroir? Pronounced tey-roa , this French word, which literally means 'soil', keeps popping up in books and discussions on wine.
There's a wonderful reason why wine-makers and wine critics never tire of promoting the virtues of terroir. In every vineyard, a unique combination of climate, topography and soil type shapes the character of the vines that grow there and the grapes they yield. The wine made from these grapes reflects the characteristics of this unique parcel of our planet.
The Wine Grape: Ripe grapes contain high levels of natural sugar that can be fermented into alcohol. The berries also possess essential acids that help counteract the sweetness, keeping a wine fresh-tasting and balanced.
Building Blocks of Wine:
Grape sugar is fermented into alcohol, and gives the wine its richness and fruitiness. The riper the fruit, the better the fruit/sugar quality.
Acidity is what keeps this fruit lively on the palate, especially in a white wine. Without it, white wines become limp and bland, while reds seem flabby and unexciting, and also lack the structure to age well.
Tannin comes the grape skins and pips, and is rarely noticeable in whites (although it is there), but it is what gives a red its all-important structure, helping it to last and mature with age.
Alcohol gives a wine weight on the palate. In a good wine, the alcohol must never leave a burning sensation.
Still Wines (White, Red and Rosé). Whether a grape is white or red, the juice is light-coloured. It's the skin, therefore, that determines the colour of a wine. To make a rosé , the contact of red grape skins with the juice is limited to a few hours only. Lighter wine is also called blush . The bloom, or the waxy coating on the outside of the skin, contain the natural yeasts that facilitate the fermentation process.
Sparkling Wines: Champagne is the best-known example of a family of sparkling wines. The name can only be used for sparkling wine from the Champagne district of France.
Sparkling wines produced in France outside Champagne are known by the collective name of Cremant. The Italian Prosecco, the Spanish Cava and the German Sekt are the other notable sparkling wine styles.
The bubbles in a bubbly are created during the second fermentation process, which takes places in bottles after the introduction of yeast.
Fortified Wines: Port, Madeira , Sherry and Marsala .
Port is produced in the Duoro Valley in Northern Portugal by fermenting grape juice with brandy.
Madeira , which essentially reflects a different grape-growing condition, is produced in the Portuguese island of the same name in the Atlantic .
Sherry , Spain 's most labour-intensive and complex wine from Jerez in the south, is made by a unique process of blending of old and new wines in a network of barrels known as the solera system.
Marsala , a fortified wine from Sicily and the favourite of the British Navy Admiral, Lord Nelson. It's the invention of a British importer named John Woodhouse, who arrived in the region in 1770.
Vermouths are wines, but these are fortified with spices.
Distilled Wines: Cognac , Armagnac , Brandy and Grappa.
Brandy is the generic name given to products of distillation of wine, like Cognac and Armagnac , which are named after geographical regions of origin. Grappa , a popular after-dinner drink in Italy , is the distillate of the must left after wine grapes are fermented.
There's a good reason why we must progress from describing wines as mere reds or whites. Terroir and wine-making skills do play an important role, but it's the individual grape variety that is most influential determinant of the taste of a wine. Familiarity with some of the exceptional varieties is, therefore, a great way of savouring the myriad styles and flavours of the world's wines.
The Big Six: These grape varieties can be grown virtually anywhere and are responsible for 80% of the world's wines. These are:
Riesling: The classical German white is very fruity and acidic. Elegant, complex and finely balanced.
Sauvignon Blanc: Pungent, tangy white with citric flavours. France 's Loire Valley is the heartland of this grape. Marlborough in New Zealand is home to the most powerful and aromatic expressions of Sauvignon Blanc. Makes fresh, dry and crisp wine. Can also make a sweet wine due to its high acidity. Oaks well too. Best drunk young.
Chardonnay: The world's most popular variety, this white grape is used in Burgundy to produce Chablis and in Champagne to produce the bubbly. Medium to full-bodied, it can be tannic when oaked for long. Does not have a strong flavour of its own.
Pinot Noir: A difficult grape to grow, but it's responsible for some of the world's greatest wines. Its spiritual home is Burgundy , but the grape is also successfully grown in Oregon , USA , and New Zealand . Makes seductive, silky and perfumed wines. The wine tastes of cherries and strawberries.
Merlot: Soft, luscious, plum-tasting, it's the most popular red, which achieves its greatest triumph in the wines of Pomerol and St-Emilion in Bordeaux . Does not age very well on its own. Blends well with Cabernet.
Cabernet Sauvignon: Originating in Bordeaux , the grape has travelled long distances across the world. Makes elegant wines that age as well as they travel.
Other White Grapes:
Clairette: A sugar-rich, intrinsically flabby grape used mainly in the South of France. Also used by Grover Vineyards in their white wine.
Chenin Blanc : Thin-skinned, high sugar content and good acidity. Very popular in South Africa and Nashik. Late harvest can yield sweet wine.
Semillon: The blending grape of Sauternes in France, where they make the world's most prized sweet wines, white wines of Bordeaux and blends with Sauvignon or Chardonnay in Australia. Very susceptible to noble rot, which is responsible for the bouquet of melon or fig in sweet wines of Sauternes.
Gewürztraminer: This variety from Alsace ( France ) and Pfalz ( Germany ) produces an aromatic white wine with a spicy flavour.
Pinot Gris (Grigio in Italy ): In Alsace, it can make rich, dry or sweet wines; in North-East Italy , it yields a much lighter wine.
Thompson: These seedless table grapes are abundant in Maharashtra . Used especially to make sparkling wines in Nashik.
Trebbiano (Ugni Blanc in France ): These high-yielding grapes mostly make thin, light, fresh wines that are good for quaffing.
Viognier: Used in making dry wines in Rhone Valley , France . Was dying out, but it has become very popular in recent years. Now being produced in Chile , Australia , California and, most recently, in Bangalore by Grover.
Other Red Grapes:
Cabernet Franc: Blending grape, adds perfume and elegance. Used as a varietal as well in Chile and Australia .
Carmenere: Originally a grape of Bordeaux , where it is extinct, it grows in abundance in Chile . Resembles the Merlot. Peppery and lush if handled well. Lower acidity, plenty of rich fruit.
Grenache: Heat-loving grape packed with flavours of black pepper, plums and toffee. Makes highly alcoholic wine. Used in Rhone Valley ( France ) and Spain and now also being grown in Nashik.
Malbec: Blending grape of Bordeaux , more successful in Argentina .
Nebbiolo: The prized Barolos and Barbarescos from Piedmont , Italy , are produced from this grape. Highly tannic, it ages extremely well. Not easy to grow.
Sangiovese : The grand grape of Chianti, it's found all over Tuscany and Central Italy . Characterised by high acidity and flavours of plums and black cherries. Can age well and also be drunk young.
Shiraz (Syrah in France ): Responsible for the most desirable wines from Australia , it yields the full-bodied, perfumed and age-worthy red wines of the Northern Rhone Valley . Now grown in many countries, namely, Chile , Italy , USA , South Africa and even India .
Pinotage: Cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault from South of France, it makes a lighter wine of indifferent quality in South Africa . It's fast going out of fashion.
Tempranillo: Spain 's classical grape from the Rioja region makes ruby red, well-structured wines that age well and can be drunk young as well.
Zinfandel: It makes several styles of wines whose colours range from blush and pink to red, which can be tannic and spicy and age very well.
The concept of body is very important. All grapes can be pigeon-holed into three categories: Light, Medium and Full. The concept is very similar to skim milk, whole milk and thick cream. Body plays an important role when you're matching food with wine.
France : France is still the envy of the wine-producing world, and its global influence is far-reaching. Other nations have made significant strides in wine-making, but no other has the range of climatic and topographical conditions suitable to a diversity of grape varieties and wine styles. But France still remains a close second to Italy in terms of production and export volumes.
Wine production, in fact, has dropped from 69 million hectolitres in 1985 to 52 million 2002, and the domestic consumption per person has halved to 57 litres. What has changed, though, is increasing emphasis on quality wines. The French may be drinking less wine, but they're drinking better wines, though not every French wine guarantees a great experience. It is for this reason you must try and get a grip on France 's extremely complex system of denominating its wines.
The complex French wine labels, governed by the Appellation d'Origine Controlee system, have been partly responsible for the growing popularity of Australian and other New World wines in the English-speaking world. The point to remember is that even from respected regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy , which are at the top of the pecking order, not every wine assures quality. There are good wines, but there are more bad wines.
France is a complex web of wine regions, but there are some names you can't afford to forget. Let's start with the reds.
In Bordeaux 's mild climate, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are used in a variable blend to produce more top-quality wine than any other region. In Provence , Cabernet Sauvignon is used to add complexity and tannic structure to some blends, while Cabernet Franc grabs the limelight in the Loire Valley , where it makes a fresh, fruity, invigorating wine.
Pinot Noir appears in the cooler north as Burgundy 's red grape. It also produces the only red wine in Alsace and is used as part of the blend in champagne. The inherent fruitiness of Beaujolais stems from Gamay, which also appears in the Loire Valley .
Syrah holds sway in the Northern Rhone , and it's also increasingly used in blends in Southern Rhone and Languedoc-Roussillon . The major variety in both these regions, though, is warm and generous Grenache. Mourvedre is the other noble grape found in southern blends.
Chardonnay is the most widely planted white variety in France . It reaches its apogee in Burgundy , producing a range of styles, from rich, buttery, barrel-edged Meursault to intense, minerally wines in the more extreme climate of Chablis .
It's also one of the principal components of champagne, where it can appear as a single variety called blanc de blancs . Elsewhere, Chardonnay is also cultivated in the Loire Valley and has had great success as a fruity varietal known as vin de pays in Languedoc-Roussillon .
Crisp, tangy Sauvignon Blanc is found in the cool to mild climes of the Loire Valley and Bordeaux . In the latter, it is often blended with Semillon for both dry and unctuous sweet wine styles. The Loire 's other major white grape produces everything from dry to luscious sweet wines.
The distinctive wines of Alsace showcase a range of white grapes, the principal varieties being dry, fragrant Riesling, perfumed Gewurtztraminer, and full-bodied Pinot Gris. Further south, in the Rhone Valley and the South of France , a host of white varieties generally have less acidity due to the warmer climate. The most characterful are the grapey Muscat and the opulently fragrant Viognier of Condrieu.
Italy : The world's No. 1 wine producer, backed by a viticultural tradition that is over 3,000 years old, offers an amazing range of styles, regions and varieties (over 1,000). Much of this is because of its climate, which varies enormously from north to south. The quality of Italian wines has improved considerably recently both from the generic level right up to its top regions.
In the north-west, Piedmont makes pricey Barolo and Barbaresco from the Nebbiolo grape. Further east, Veneto produces white Soave, red or rosé Bardolino, and red Valpolicella. In Friuli-Venezia in the north-east, Giulia makes some of Italy 's top white wines.
Tuscany in Central Italy is home to the famous red wines called Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Sangiovese is the main grape here, though in conjunction with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, it produces the world-famous Super Tuscans. Down south, Puglia and Sicily are using new-wave winemaking techniques that are turning out great-value red and white wines.
It has a quality system similar to France with four levels, each indicating very strictly followed rules of growing grapes and vinifying them: Vino da Tavola (table wine); Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), which is a tag that's now flaunted by some Italy's top wines; Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC); and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, with stricter controls (DOCG).
Spain : Western Europe 's second-oldest wine producer makes some very exciting wines that are highly valued by connoisseurs around the world. The classic Spanish wine is typically red and made from the Tempranillo grape.
It has achieved international fame because of the outstanding work that has been done in Rioja , which is a couple of hours away from the port city of Bilbao . Today, however, Spain has a great deal more to offer. Among the star regions are Navarra , with its bright, cherry-fresh Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; the internationally famous Ribera del Duero with its highly extracted, complex and rich reds from Tempranillo; and Catalunya , with world-class red wines from Penedes and Priorat, which are made using Garnacha (Grenache) and Carinena (Carignan) grapes from low-yielding ancient vineyards.
Of the white wine regions, Rueda (Castilla y Leon) makes Spain 's best white wines from Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc. Rias Baixas ( Galicia ) competes for the title of Spain 's classic white with cool, crisp, clear wines made from the Albarino grape.
Aragon has old plantations of Garnacha and produces wines offering astonishing value. La Mancha is another good source for bargain red wines (mostly Tempranillo) and some quality surprises (such as the lovely, oaky reds of Valdepenas ).
Adding more diversity to Spain 's impressive portfolio are Cava , now the world's best-selling sparkling wine, and sherry , the world's oldest fine wine. Made from the Palomino grape in Andalucia, sherry ranges from the palest, driest and most delicate fino to the richest, most pungent oloroso.
REST OF EUROPE
Austria : For decades, the country's wine industry was firmly bound up with the country's touristy image: German visitors wanted little more than Gemutlichkeit -- ladies in folk costumes serving mugs of semi-sweet wine to the accompaniment of cold pork and Schrammelmusik .
It was not until the 1950s that a small group of growers based in Wachau began to reform the industry by making some serious Austrian wines. The process was accelerated by the repercussions of the wine scandal of 1985, when sweet and semi-sweet wines were discredited due to the crooked practices of certain merchants who added chemical to their musts. The Austrian wine industry was shaken from top to bottom.
With new blood replacing old, the past two decades have been a major success story for Austrian wine. The country's Rieslings are acknowledged to be some of the best of the world, Gruner Veltliner is gaining recognition, and local unoaked Chardonnays and the sappy Steiermark Sauvignon Blancs have taken on a character all of their own.
Germany : Home to the classic Riesling, regarded by many wine experts as the noblest white grape varieties, Germany produces some of the most sublime white wines. Mosel-Saar-Ruwer , Rheingau and Baden are the better-known areas.
The production of red wines is on the increase. Pinot Noirs and Dornfelder grapes make decent, though light, wines. Most wines are consumed locally and only a few of the country's top estates are known outside Germany .
The image of German wine has suffered badly due to the large amount of mediocre sweetish white wine unleashed onto the export markets over the recent decades. This problem has been exacerbated by the structure of the industry, which is based on very small estates and large cooperatives. The small estates, many of them of world-class stature, have limited quantities of wine to sell; the larger producers are rarely focused on high quality, so their wines do little to improve the image of German wines abroad.
Greece : Continental Europe 's oldest wine producer is today only a small player in the international wine market, producing mainly white wines. The country's is still best-known for its Retsina wines made in Attica from the flavourless, white Savatiano grapes. The new-wave Retsinas are not as heavily spiked with pine resin as they used to be in their heyday. As a result, they're fresh-tasting and easy to drink.
Switzerland : The country famous for its cheese, banks and watches also produces subtle wines that are neither rich, nor fruity; they cater mainly to the domestic taste. They tend to be expensive because of the high cost of farming on the steep slopes. The wines are not exported much.
Turkey : Wines are still made for domestic consumption in this country, which has consistently been one of the top five grape-producing nations. But today, Turkey is gradually finding a niche in the world market for high quality, Old World , old-fashioned wine from interesting indigenous grape varieties. These are providing a new dimension for the international wine market saturated by cabernets and chardonnays.
East Europe and the Baltics: Hungary , Romania and Bulgaria are seeing a steady revival of their wine industries, which had been stultified because of long years of socialism.
Hungary , of course, has acquired a reputation because of the luscious sweet wines of Tokaji and the chunky Bull's Blood blend, which has been revived in a big way. Romania , which had been making wines even before the Ancient Romans, is attracting a lot of foreign investment and wine world is watching it shake off its poor image with the help of indigenous grapes like the Feteasca Neagra, the 'black maiden'.
Bulgaria has been making wine since the time of the Ancient Greeks, but years of socialism and complete dependence on the Russian market, has left its industry with nothing to talk about. There's no reason yet to place your bets on this country's future as a major wine producer, though experts expect much from its indigenous varieties -- Melnik, Mavrud and Rubin -- in the coming years. After being in the news only for civil strife, Croatia is making waves with its wines. Interest in this young country's wine industry was revived after CNN recently aired a programme entitled 'From Mines To Wines'.
Lebanon & Israel : India , China and Japan may be creating some interest in the wine world in recent years, but the Lebanon and Israel remain the Asian superpowers in the wine world.
Lebanon , in fact, can lay claim to the oldest and most continuous culture of wine-making dating back at least six millennia. The country's links with France , though, have really shaped Lebanon 's modern wine industry, with 90% of the country's production being exported. The exports, clearly, are riding on the wave of Lebanese restaurants in Western Europe .
Israel , too, is historically home to one of the world oldest viticultural areas, but it was not until the 1880s that Baron Edmond de Rothschild set up the first wine company in the region, much before the State of Israel was born, that the modern wine industry was born.
Blighted by war and instability for decades, the neglected industry made very ordinary wine, mainly from one red variety -- Carignan -- to provide kosher wine for its people and orthodox Jews around the world. In the mid-1980s, though, a serious quality revolution began to shift into top gear. Expertise brought in mainly from California has also left its indelible mark, giving many of the region's wines a definite New World signature.
THE NEW WORLD
Two years back, wine connoisseurs were jolted by the news that Australian wines had dislodged their stuffy French competition from its comfortable perch at the top of Britain 's supermarket shelves.
With this seismic shift in the market came to an end a tradition that dated back to 1152, when the marriage of the Norman, Henry Plantagenet, who became England 's King Henry II in 1154, with Eleanor of Aquitaine had brought the wine region of Bordeaux under the English Crown for the next 300 years. By 1390, Britain was consuming 80 per cent of Bordeaux 's wine exports.
The appetite for French 'claret' across the English Channel did not diminish even after Bordeaux reverted back to French suzerainty in 1453. Aussie wines had achieved what the English Parliament's ban on French wines in 1679 could not. The event had exposed the fragility of Old World wines when confronted by the challenge of the New World .
The earliest evidence of stored wine, dating back to 6,000 B.C., was unearthed from the Zagros mountains of western Iran , but the significant countries with a continuous wine-making tradition dating back to Roman Antiquity are France , Italy , Spain and Portugal , and they represent the Old World . And the New World , whose history isn't more than 500 years old, stretches from Chile and Argentina to Australia and New Zealand , via the United States and South Africa .
The French do not miss any opportunity to rubbish their New World rivals. They accuse them of Coca-Colanising wine, producing straightforward, fruity wines catering to the supermarket consumer.
But the French had to come down from their high horse in 1976. That was when the British wine merchant Steven Spurrier organised a blind tasting at which the best wines of California were pitted against the top growths of Bordeaux and Burgundy .
To the horror of the French, the mostly French team of tasters gave the top scores to two Californian wines from Napa Valley -- a red named Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon and Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, a white with a misleadingly French name.
The wine challenge exposed the biggest drawback of Old World, especially French, wines -- New World wines are meant to be drunk young, though they also have ageing potential, but French wines don't express themselves fully till they attain a particular age. The ageing process mellows the tannins, the acids that give wines a stringency that many people find off-putting.
New World wines, on the other hand, are well-rounded. They represent a delicate balance between fruit and acid, which, in a layperson's language, translates into the balance between the astringency the front of the tongue experiences as one sips a wine and the gentle hint of fruity sweetness that lingers at the back of the palate after one has swallowed the wine. Such wines are easy to drink and they are easy to marry with different kinds of food.
New World wines are also more amenable to the way the world now drinks wine. Some time back, the respected Decanter magazine reported that 40 per cent of the wine that's consumed in the world is drunk standing up, whereas traditionally, wine has been a drink to accompany meals, meant to be drunk sitting down. Complex wines, which open up only in the glass or when paired with particular dishes, just don't work when you host a cocktail evening or a buffet dinner.
Then here's the bigger problem of storage. With more and more people living in cramped apartments, the market for wines that need cellaring is shrinking fast. When you barely have room for yourself, your family and your pets, it's a bit too much to expect you to also make room for a cellar, isn't it? No wonder, New World wines have largely powered the 500 per cent growth in wine consumption since 1970.
"The surge of wine's popularity is a direct result of the huge quantities of affordable ripe-fruited New World wines flooding onto the market and the advent of 'branded' wines." This observation from Wines Of The World (Dorling Kindersley, 2004), an extremely useful reference book for wine lovers, sums up the change that has taken place in the world from the days when the Old World, led by an unchallenged France, ruled the market. An important driver of this change has also been the complexity of Old World labels. Try reading a French, Italian or Spanish label and you'll have no clue about the wine you're drinking? New World labels, on the other hand, are as uncomplicated as they can get.
When you deliver a simple, approachable style with a simple label, you definitely have a competitive advantage, especially when your competition expects the average consumer to be a wine encyclopaedia with all the time in the world to mull over a complicated wine list.
The market for French wines also took a big hit after French cuisine started going out of fashion in a world where Italian, Chinese, South-East Asian and Indian flavours dominate the international palate. Italian wines, meanwhile, are piggybacking on the rising popularity of Italian cuisine; Chinese and South-East Asian cuisines, meanwhile, propelled the market for the wines of Alsace, especially the Gewurtztraminer and Riesling, both whites with varying degrees of sweetness. Clearly, the old guards of Bordeaux and Burgundy are fighting with their backs to the wall.
And it's happening at a time when wine consumption in the Old World has more than halved over the last 30 years and Wines Of The World lists three reasons for this change -- one, drinking water quality has improved, so wine is no longer needed as a general beverage; two, wine is no longer perceived as a nutritional source but as an impediment to work; three, cafe drinking has seen a steady decline.
On my first visit to France as a guest of Onivins, the apex body of the French wine industry, I was surprised to learn that the French, especially young people, are opting for short lunches without a drop of wine. In a fast-paced world where extended lunches and officially sanctioned siestas belong to an increasingly distant past, Old World wines have a struggle for survival ahead.
Spanish wines never had much of an international market, though the iconic Miguel Torres has managed to change the image of Spanish wines by, ironically, breaking the hidebound rules that govern wine-making in his country. Portugal is on the fringes of the international wine market, much of its fame resting on its centuries-old trade in port with Britain .
Port, by the way, is the sweet, fortified wine that the English love to have after dinner with cheese or a cigar. By the looks of it, it's also losing its following, with gentlemen's clubs getting to the Jurassic Park of ideas that have outlived their lien. The new century, clearly, belongs to the New World .
What's New About The New World ? A recce of the wine-making regions that form the New World .
ARGENTINA: Jesuit missionaries planted the first vines in the Mendoza region at the foot of the Andes in the 1550s, but it is only recently that the country has begun to be treated as a major wine producer, thanks mainly to the Malbec, a red wine grape brought by immigrant workers who came from South-West France in the late 19th century. The grape, which hasn't had much of a career in France , is flourishing in the South American sunshine.
Famous Grape Varieties: Malbec and Torrontes, as well as the Italian Sangiovese and Nebbiolo and the Spanish Tempranillo. Top Labels: Bodega Norton, Catena Zapata, Familia Zuccardi, Dominio del Plata, Michel Torino Bodega La Rosa and Terrazas de Los Andes .
AUSTRALIA: It's the only country's whose wine exports (470 million litres) exceed domestic sales (415 million litres), and with the demand for wines from Down Under showing no signs of slowing doing, the Australian wine industry has been growing at a phenomenal rate -- since 2000, a new wine producer is getting into business every 61 hours!
Famous Grape Varieties: Semillon (white) and Shiraz (red). Top Labels: Clarendon Hills, D'Arenberg, McWilliam's Mount Pleasant, Penfolds, Peter Lehmann, Rosemount Estate, Tyrrell's, Wolf Blass and Yalumba.
CALIFORNIA : Wine is produced in many parts of the United States , from Washington and Oregon to New York , but California , especially Napa Valley (even though it accounts for just 4 per cent of the state's wine production), remains the standard-bearer.
Famous Grape Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel (reds); Chardonnay (white). Top Labels: Beringer, Chateau Montelena, Dominus, Duckhorn, Gallo of Sonoma, Gloria Ferrer, Joseph Phelps, Kendall-Jackson, Kenwood, Kistler, Marimar Torres, Ravenswood, Roederer Estate. Robert Mondavi, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars.
CHILE : Cut off behind the Andes and sandwiched between the Atacama desert in the north and the ice of the Antarctic in the south, this is one country that escaped the scourge of the Phylloxera, the louse that nearly destroyed the European wine industry in the 1860s.
As a result, it's a botanical museum of sorts, being the only place in the world where you'll still find the original European vines that arrived in Chile with the Spanish invaders in the 1550s. Chile , however, owes its fame, like Australia , to its fruit-driven, easy-to-drink, affordable wines offering great value for money.
Famous Grape Varieties: Carmenere and Merlot (reds); Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay (whites). Top Labels: Almaviva, Caliterra, Casa Lapostolle, Concha y Toro, Santa Rita and Vina Montes.
NEW ZEALAND : Its wine industry traces its origins back to 1819, but New Zealand began to be taken seriously only after Montana , its biggest wine producer, released its 1980 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough , which has become synonymous with the white wine famous for its cut-grass pungency. Before Marlborough arrived on the scene, Hawke's Bay was New Zealand 's key wine-growing region, renowned for its rich Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignon blends.
Famous Grape Varieties: Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay (white); Pinot Noir (red). Top Labels: Babich Wines, Cloudy Bay, Goldwater Estate, Montana Wines, Nobilo Wine Group, Pegasus Bay , Te Mata Estate and Villa Maria Estate.
SOUTH AFRICA: The first vines were planted in the Cape of Good Hope by Commander Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company in 1655, but it was not until the apartheid regime was dismantled in 1992 and only after Nelson Mandela toasted his 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Cape wine that the world woke up to the country's long wine-making tradition. By 2002, South Africa was exporting 218 million litres of wine, up from 23 million litres in 1991.
Famous Grape Varieties: Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc (whites); Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Pinotage (reds). Big Labels: Klein Constantia Estate, Meerlust Estate, Neil Ellis Wines, Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons and Vergelegen.