From rich reds to zesty whites, a good wine depends on many factors, including its grape varietal, the growing conditions the year it was produced and the region where its vineyards are situated. Wine is a truly international commodity, but there are some areas that are especially well suited to a certain varietal, and if you want the best it can be a good idea to check the label to see where your favorite grape originated.
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A classic favorite among the whites, chardonnay is a mix of fruity and citrus tones with vanilla, spices, honey and hazelnut. A classic chardonnay from Burgundy in France is hard to beat, although varieties are grown worldwide. This versatile wine varies from light and fruity to full buttery versions, and there’s a big difference between those that have undergone classic oak-aging to those that haven’t. The classic French chardonnay tends to be richer and earthier and is best enjoyed with uncomplicated roast chicken or seafood dishes.
Italian pinot grigio is made from the same varietal as pinot gris from Alsace in France, but the Italian grape gives quite a different wine to its French twin. The grapes are mostly produced in north-east Italy and the climate here gives rise to a light, fresh-tasting wine that is a firm favorite on a summer’s day. The Italian pinot goes well with light seafood or chicken dishes. It also makes a great aperitif.
Originating from Bordeaux in France, sauvignon blanc is a light medium white that carries undertones of herbs and citrus. Growers in New Zealand have taken on the Bordeaux varietal and really made it their own. The climate there is perfect for the grape and the sauvignon blanc has become a well-loved and very fashionable New Zealand wine. Tart New Zealand sauvignon blancs are best enjoyed with seafood dishes and salads, or as an aperitif.
The king of the reds, cabernet sauvignon, is grown all over the world. It has its origin in Bordeaux in France and the French vineyards still produce the best of the classic cabernets, but this varietal grows equally well in any climate. Warm-origin cabernets tend to make softer wines with tones of currants, while those grown in colder regions give a firmer-bodied tannic red that will age well. Cabernets are renowned for being paired with lamb dishes, but they go just as well with any red meats.
It’s known as syrah when grown in the French vineyards of the Rhone valley, but Australian shiraz is a fruity berry red that is less tannic than its French twin. Often coupled with cabernet, the shiraz is a sweet and palatable wine that has become a firm favorite, best enjoyed with barbecued treats and spicy foods.
Merlot is the most widely produced varietal in Bordeaux in France, but this versatile red is also successfully grown the world over, with some of the best coming from California. Merlot has a soft, fruity quality that makes it a timeless favorite, and it blends well with other reds too. Deep and velvety, Californian merlots are very drinkable on their own, but they’re also a particularly good companion for a tender steak, pork or burger.
When it comes to a good white wine, it’s clear that France and Italy are the places to go; however, New Zealand isn’t going to let these two European viticulture titans steal all the limelight and chips in with a fine sauvignon blanc. Consider reds and again all eyes turn to France, but this time it’s Australia and California that refuse to be outdone, offering their own tasty shiraz and merlot respectively. One thing is clear, though, and that’s whichever ever destination you visit, your palate is in for a treat!
Nadia Reuben is a sommelier and also writes wine reviews. Her favorite wine is shiraz, and she has a keen interest in art, stating that Andy Warhol would be her perfect dinner guest.