Wine newbies often feel daunted by the sheer volume of information there is to know, starting from colour, styles, grapes, nosing, age, food pairing and country of origin. We are determined to make wine selection for you as easy as a walk in the park. After our wine issue in 2015, this year we aim to give you an overview of the wines of the world by focusing on countries from the “old world” and the “new world”.
When talking about Old World wines, we are basically referring to wines that come from the countries in which wine was born such as Italy, France, Spain, the rest of Europe and the Mediterranean basin.
Ancient Romans were absolutely mad about wine and it was an integral part of their diet. Thanks to the Roman empire almost all of the wine producing areas of Western Europe were established during that time. Around the time of the birth of Christ, winemaking was so popular it was beginning to effect the production of food and the emperor was forced to uproot vineyards and outlaw the planting of new ones to make space for grain production. Although the Roman Empire collapsed around 500AD, the Roman Catholic Church continued to make it, as it was essential for performing the sacred mass.
In modern times, Italian wine acquired international notoriety after the Second World war when it aggressively marketed what are today known as lesser wines to the United States of America. At the time it was better known for quantity rather than quality, a reputation that over the second half of the twentieth century it fought hard to overturn with the introduction of high class quality wines.
Wine Denominations: In order to control the quality of their wine, Italians have devised systems and tags which are used to control the quality of a vineyard. When choosing your Italian wine keep in mind that the certification falls into three categories of decreasing strictness: DOCG (controlled and guaranteed designation of origin), seeing this on your label means the producers followed the strictest possible regulations in the making of that wine. DOC (controlled designation of origin) covers almost every traditional Italian wine style and IGT (typical geographical indication) focuses on the region of origin rather than the grape varieties used. Vino da Tavola means table wine and represents the most basic level of Italian wines.
Major white wines: Asti (sweet, low in alcohol, fruity and floral flavours), Frascati (dry, light bodied, crisp), Gavi (dry, medium bodied, delicate), Orvieto (dry, crisp, nice bitter finish), Pinot Grigio (light bodied, dry, crisp), Soave (light or medium bodied, dry, crisp), Verdicchio (medium bodied, dry, mineral flavour)
Major Red Wines: Amarone (full bodied, dry but with a concentrated fruitiness that suggests sweetness), Barbera (light or medium bodied, dry but with intense berry flavour), Barolo (full bodied, dry, complex aromas, tastes best at 10 to 20 years of age), Brunello di Montalcino (full bodied, intense, strong tannins), Chianti (medium bodied, very dry, moderate tannins), Lambrusco (sweet fizzy wine although dry and sparkling varieties exist), Salice Salentino (full-bodied, dry, intense aromas) Valpolicella (medium body, dry moderate tannins), Nobile di Montepulciano (medium bodied, dry, lean)
A commonly held misconception is that the Romans brought wine to France. While the Romans helped boost the production of wine across the country, grape pips have been found that pre-date both the Greeks and the Romans. The Romans were mainly responsible for encouraging the production of wine in the Southern regions of France.
In the 19th century, following a period in which explorers would bring back botanical species from around the world, new diseases were inadvertently introduced into France which resulted in ailments than virtually decimated the French wine industry. This period culminated at the turn of the 20th century when phylloxera, a tiny little aphid that came from the United States, devastated France’s vineyards by attacking the roots of the vines. Ironically the solution to the problem also came from America, which had vines that could resist the bug. The French grafted their vines onto the American stock and gradually managed to return to it’s earlier production levels.
Have you ever looked at a French wine and just shuddered? What does it all mean you ask yourself before simply settling for the cheapest/most expensive one on offer. It’s true, French wine labels contain loads of information but it doesn’t have to be quite so mysterious. Here we’ve taken the time to note most of them down to make your life that little bit easier.
Appellation: Where in France the wine came from. French appellations follow three tiers: AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) indicating origin, quality and style, Vin de Pays, similar to IGT focuses exclusively on geographical origin and Vin de France which replaced the category of Vin de Table in 2010 and is the most basic tier for French wine, with grapes that can originate from anywhere in the country.
Château: A wine estate
Cru: A vineyard, village area or wine estate
Domaine: A smaller wine estate than a château
Grand cru: Represents a region’s highest quality vineyard or vineyard area
Grand cru classé: An officially classified “top property” wine estate
Premier cru: A top vineyard but less prestigious than grand cru
Blanc de blancs: A white wine made only from white grapes (like of ex champagne)
Brut: Dry sparkling wine
Cuvee: A blend of wines
Grand vin: A winery’s best wine
Millésime: Year of harvest (vintage)
Mis en bouteille au château: Estate-bottled
Réserve: In theory a better-quality wine although it’s a term anyone can use for any wine
Vieilles vignes: Old vines
Much as in the rest of the Mediterranean basin, the Spanish had already been making wine before the arrival of the Romans. By some accounts grapes were first cultivated around 4000 to 3000BC. The Romans conquerers were so impressed with Spanish wine that they would import it to their troops in France, Britain and Germany.
With the end of the Roman Empire a period of stagnation took hold and we know little of what wine was produced. We do know however the the Moorish conquerers were fond of eating dried grapes (raisins) so they allowed people to continue producing wines. Upon “discovering” the new world, Christopher Columbus set about bringing vines on his journeys. Eventually, however, the Spanish attempted to halt wine production in the colonies because it was effecting Spanish exportation. The Industrial Revolution saw Spanish wine exports diminish as the technology wasn’t up to parr, but the phylloxera blight in France helped boost production again, albeit for just a few decades. The second half of the 20th century saw international curiosity turn towards the Jerez and Rioja producing regions and, after the death of the dictator Franco in 1975, the wine industry picked up in ernest.
Spanish vineyards cover the highest percentage of land of any country in the world. They remain however the third largest producer in the world due in part to the low vine yields and the wide spacing of vines planted on what is mainly dry and infertile Spanish soil.
The biggest wine producing Spanish regions are:
Rioja: (north-central Spain) Historically the country’s major red wine region. Three-quarters of Rioja’s wine is red, 15 percent rosado (rosé), and 10 percent white. The principal grape in Rioja is Tempranillo, Spain’s greatest red variety. But regulations permit another three varieties for reds — Garnacha (Grenache), Graciano (Carignan), and Mazuelo — and red Rioja wine is typically a blend of two or more varieties.
Ribera del Duero: One of Spain’s most dynamic wine regions. Perhaps nowhere else in the world does the Tempranillo grape variety reach such heights, making wines with body, deep color, and finesse.
Penedés is in Catalonia: Home of most Spanish sparkling wines, known as Cava.
The Rías Baixas region of Galicia: Rapidly gaining acclaim for its exciting white wine, Albariño.
Toro: In northwest Spain, quickly emerging as one of Spain’s best red wine regions. Toro’s climate and soil are ideal for making powerful, tannic red wines — mainly from the Tempranillo grape variety.
Rueda: West of Ribera del Duero, produces one of Spain’s best white wines from the Verdejo grape. The wine is clean and fresh, has good fruit character, and is inexpensive.