The current food-obsessed climate prizes terroir in everything, from beef to coffee to olive oil. You don’t just buy a steak; you buy a Piedmontese ribeye. Winemakers have been sniffing the soil and praying to the grape gods for centuries, though. Wine at its best is spiritually, ritually, and tribally connected to a place. (At its worst it’s a commercial product no different than a soft drink.) Knowing the major wine regions provides some basic insight with which we can approach the wine aisle or pick a bottle at a restaurant. It helps us understand what we can expect from the a Malbec from Mendoza or a Gran Reserva-designated wine from Rioja. It doesn’t give us the right to use “pencil lead” and “hot brioche” as tasting notes. We’ll get to that, but for now, read and enjoy this guide to the 10 essential wine regions of the world.
Wine Regions of the World GP Wines: 101
If you're drinking Argentinian wine, there's a 2/3 chance it came from this region northwest of Buenos Aires. Mendoza currently holds the distinction of being the fifth largest wine-growing region in the world, with a large quantity of high-altitude vineyards. They've got good olive oil there, too.
Malbec, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay
Napa Valley California
After the famous Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, during which Californian wines beat out French wines in every category, Napa Valley gained a reputation as one of the premier wine grape growing regions in the world. In addition to some of the best cabs on earth, Napa is also home to The French Laundry restaurant and one of our favorite double bacon cheeseburgers, from Gott's Roadside.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc
Riesling is one of the darlings of the wine cogniscenti, and Mosel is its best source in Germany. The region, in the far west of Germany near Belgium and Luxembourg, is characterized by vineyards planted on steep slopes next to the Mosel River, slate-based soil, and floral, acidic wines.
Barossa Valley Australia
Named after the 1811 Battle of Barrosa, during which the British prevailed over the French, the Barossa Valley is famous for its old vine Shiraz, a full bodied red wine with notes of chocolate and spice.
Shiraz, Riesling, Semillon, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Stellenbosch South Africa
Stellenbosch University is the UC Davis of South Africa, which is to say, the center of viticulture research. And the city, at the base of the Cape Fold mountain range, is also home to a large concentration of vineyards and world-class wine -- not to mention the birthplace of the Pinotage grape.
Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinotage, Pinot Noir
Home to some of the most expensive wines in the world, the Burgundy region has a history of viticulture that dates back the 1st century AD. Burgundy winemakers put emphasis on the region's "terroir" -- loosely translated as "a sense of place", or the amalgam of elements that go into making the perfect wine. Cycling from vineyard to vineyard in the Côte de Beaune should be at the top of any list of romantic vacations.
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
Like Burgundy, Tuscany possesses a storied wine history that dates back to the 8th century BC. Surprisingly, the soil of Tuscany is poor, forcing growers to focus on quality over yield. "Super Tuscan", aside from being fun to say, is a wine made in the tradition of defying Italy's DOC wine classification system by including international grape varieties.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carbernet Franc, Trebbiano, Malvasia, Vermentino
La Rioja Spain
The tiny Rioja region houses 150 wineries. One distinct feature of Rioja wines is their classification system, which ranks wines from "Rioja" at the bottom to "Gran Reserva" at the top based on the length of time spent aging in oak and in bottle. Rioja's wine owes much to Bordeaux, which influenced winemaking in the region by way of Don Manuel Quintano in the late 18th century. Eat some chorizo while you're there.
Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta, Graciano
Until the 1990s, not many people spoke about Chile's wines. But, thanks in part to a climate that mimics the Mediterranean, Colchagua winemakers earned the title of "World's Best Wine Region 2005" from Wine Enthusiast magazine. It doesn't hurt that the region has breathtaking geography that moves from coast to valley to the daunting Andes.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc
Douro Valley Portugal
Portugal is a hot wine region right now, and the Douro Valley in northern Portugal is both important and beautiful. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Center (largely because wine has been made there for over 2,000 years) anchored by the Douro River, famous for its Port but also well-respected for non-fortified wines. If you're looking for a wine-focused vacation, this is the place.
Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz
Know Your Terroir, Love Your Terroir