Each grape variety requires different conditions to grow in and each condition can drastically change the flavour of the grape, specifically varying levels of sunlight, water, warmth and nutrients from the soil.
Some parts of the world are better at growing certain grapes than other parts because they have just the right amount of everything to produce that perfect flavour.
This page will run you through the main grape growing regions of the world and what they do best so next time you’re at the bottlo and feel like a Shiraz you know where to get it from.
Each of the little tabs under ‘Regions’ will list posts I have written about wines from that region. Da daaaaaa!
I start with France because the common grape varieties in France are now grown all over the world (they must be doing something right) and France, arguably, produces the best wines in the world. However those French labels are VERY confusing. When buying a bottle of French wine you won’t actually see grape varieties listed, you’ll only see towns. That’s because in France certain regions are famous for producing certain grape varieties and put simply there are laws associated with what town can grow what grape (that’s a whole separate blog post). The easy example in Champagne. You can grow Sauvignon Blanc in Champagne if you like but you can’t call it Champagne because it’s not bubbles. So to call a wine by that town it must be a certain grape. Got it?
The bold towns are the ones that will generally appear on the bottle so look out for them and you’ll know what you’re buying.
Bordeaux – famous for Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
In Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc comes from the Graves (a sub-region of Bordeaux) and encompasses the village of Pessac-Léognan. Sauv Blanc from Graves is usually blended with Sémillon. Sweet dessert wine made from Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle grapes come from Sauternes in Graves too.
In Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the regions of Médoc, Haut- Médoc (including the villages of Pauillac and Margaux) and Graves (including the village of Pessac-Léognan).
In Bordeaux, Merlot comes from the regions of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol.
Burgundy (Bourgogne)– famous for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
In Burgundy, Chardonnay comes from the regions of Chablis, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Mâcon, Mâcon-Villages and Pouilly-Fuissé.
In Burgundy, Pinot Noir comes from the regions of Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Beaune and Pommard.
Beaujolais – famous for Gamay (a red wine with red fruit flavours, low tannin and medium or high acid).
In Beaujolais, Gamay comes from the regions of Beaujolais-Villages, Fleurie, Brouilly, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent.
Alsace – famous for Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.
Loire Valley – famous for Sauvignon Blanc.
In Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc comes from the area of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.
Rhône Valley – famous for Shiraz and Grenache.
In Northern Rhône, Shiraz comes from the regions of Crozes-Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage.
In Southern Rhône, Grenache comes from the regions of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages.
I can summarise German wines by saying that Germany is known for its Riesling and Pinot Noir.
Rieslings come from Mosel, Rheingau and Pfalz and Pinot Noir comes from Pfalz and Baden.
Just to complicate things the Germans use a grading level to reflect the sugar content of the grape and therefore the sweetness (this will appear on the label). In order of increasing sweetness, they are: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein.
There is a baffling number of unfamiliar grape varieties in Italy but lucky for us most regions use the name of the grape on the bottle (phew). You just have to get familiar with a whole heap of new grape varieties (I guess I should do a post on Italian grape varieties soon).
The bold grape varieties or towns are the ones that will generally appear on the bottle so look out for them and you’ll know what you’re buying.
Pinot Grigio (white wine with neutral flavour and medium acid) is grown all over Italy. That one is easy.
Garganega (white wine with floral flavour) is grown in the Soave region next door to Valpolicella (northern Italy).
Verdicchio (white wine with herbal flavour and high acid) is produced in the Marche region (central Italy) and is labeled as Verdicchio deo Castelli di Jesi.
Cortese (white wine with fruity citrus flavour and high acid) is produced in Piemonte (north west Italy) and is labeled Gavi.
Nebbiolo (red wine with red fruit flavour, high tannin, high acid and high alcohol) comes from Barolo and Barbaresco in Piemonte (north west Italy).
Barbera (red wine with red fruit flavours, light tannin and high acid) comes from Piemonte (north west Italy).
Corvina (red wine) which is usually blended with other grape varieties comes from Veneto (north east Italy) and will be labeled Valpolicella.
Sangiovese (red wine with high tannin and high acid) comes from Chianti in central Tuscany.
Montepulciano (red wine with black fruit flavours, high tannin, high acid and high alcohol) comes from Abruzzo (in central Italy) and will be labelled Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
The most important grape varieties of southern Italy are Primitivo, Negroamaro and Aglianico. In Campania a red wine made from 100% Aglianico grapes (red wine with black fruit flavours, high tannin and high acid) will be labeled Taurasi.
The Spanish are known for aged wine and label their wines accordingly so look out for the following words which are indications of age. In order of increasing age: Joven (no oak age), Crianza, Reserve, Gran Reserve.
Premium Tempranillo and Grenache come from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Navarra, Priorat and Catalunya.
Inexpensive Tempranillo and Grenache comes from La Mancha and Valdepeñas.
Albariño (white wine) comes from Rías Baixas. Other white wines come from Catalunya and Rioja.
We get this one!!!
Sauvignon Blanc is best from Adelaide Hills.
Semillon is best from Hunter Valley.
Riesling is best from Clare Valley and Eden Valley.
Chardonnay is best from Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Margaret River.
Pinot Noir is best from Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula.
Cabernet Sauvignon is best from Margaret River and Coonawarra.
Shiraz from a moderate climate is best produced in Heathcote while Shiraz from a hot climate is best produced in Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley and McLaren Vale.
Most of New Zealand is either too mountainous or wet to grow grapes but there are a few ripper regions that lie on the sunny coastline and produce some delish drops.
Sauvignon Blanc is best from Malborough.
Chardonnay is best from Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough.
Pinot Noir is best from Martinborough, Marlborough and Central Otago.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is best from Hawke’s Bay.
Most premium wines from the USA come from the west coast thanks to the cool ocean breeze from the Pacific and the varying levels of altitude in California which means cool and hot climate wines can be produced.
Sauvignon Blanc is produced in Napa Valley.
Chardonnay is produced in Sonoma County (including Carneros and the Russian River).
Pinot Noir is produced in Sonoma County (including Carneros and the Russian River), Santa Barbara and Oregon.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is produced in the Napa Valley and Sonoma.