Wine sales in the United States increased in the last 23 years, and the market shows no sign of slowing. Millennials drink more wine than any other generation. Astonishing as it may seem, this generation has drunk about 40% of all wine consumed in the last three years.
For years, customers were loyal to big brands and were unwilling to branch out and try new ones. Millennials are different. They’re not tied down by brand loyalty (where wine is concerned) and are actively looking to broaden their horizons. The variety of grape, the country of origin, and the price are things they take into consideration. An appealing logo also has an influence.
Nowadays, small wineries are able to compete with big companies. These still enjoy the advantage of a greater global reach. However, small companies are managing to get their wine on supermarket shelves.
France has a long and rich wine history. Considered the world’s top wine producer for centuries, theirs are the standard by which most grape varieties are judged.
After the revolution, France was flooded with low quality wine. Napoleon’s Minister of the Interior Jean-Antoine Chaptal decided it was time for a change. He believed the majority of wine producers needed re-education, so he collected information and techniques from the region’s top growers and compiled a treaty.
Additionally, Chaptal had a novel idea on how to make French wine better that changed the face of wine production forever: add sugar to increase the alcohol content. This process became known as chaptalization, in his honor.
Wine regions here are so famous, that even people with little interest in wine will have heard of them. Champagne, Chablis, and Alsace are examples of some up north. In the middle you’ll find Burgundy, Cognac, and Beaujolais. The south has Bordeaux, Armagnac, and Cotes du Rhone. Countless wine tours (many steeped in history) are available in these areas.
Wine production in Spain dates back over 3,000 years, but didn’t really take off until the Romans arrived. For a while, Spanish wine was considered to be the best. All good things come to an end, though. The Romans made way for barbarian tribes who didn’t care for wine. Later, Muslim invaders banned alcohol completely.
During the 19th century, the Spanish wine industry looked to outside influences once more to combat the vine louse known as phylloxera—a plague across Europe. Luckily, American vines were impervious to this disease. Spanish producers combined American vines with their own to save their crops.
From one disaster to the next, Spain was hit hard by war during the 20th century. Vineyards were destroyed and many were never rebuilt. As the century progressed, political instability held back the economy. People didn’t have the money to consume wine as before. Would-be producers couldn’t raise the capital to start a business.
Today, however, Spain is ranked third on the list of countries producing the most wine in the world.
The Ebro River Valley is home to the famous Tempranillo, as well as white wines made from the Grenache grape. The Andalucia region is famous for its sherry and fortified wines. The white soil gives the vineyards an otherworldly appearance.
The Greeks actually introduced wine into Italy. Comparing the two, it seemed like the ideal place to produce wine. The Greek name for Italy was Oenotria, which translates to the land of trained vines.
As the Roman Empire started to develop, wine became an important part of the culture. Everyone was drinking vast amounts of wine, from the ruling classes down to the slaves. It accompanied every meal, including breakfast. Every night, people would gather to drink until the small hours. New vineyards appeared across Italy to keep up with demand.
The Romans were the first to realize that leaving wines to age improved the taste. Previously, people drank their wine as soon as it was made. The Romans pioneered using barrels and well-sealed bottles. The wealthy started to use aged wine as a status symbol, and wine cellars became a sign of good taste.
Today, Italy is no longer the mass-producer of wine it once was. However, it still boasts a few that can compete with the rest of the world.
Tuscany is one of the most famous wine regions and home to many of Italy’s top grape varieties, including the legendary Chianti. The Piedmont region isn’t as well-known, but it is home to another of Italy’s top wines, Barolo.
Wine arrived in Argentina via Spanish conquistadors during the 16th century. Catholic priests needed wine for mass and did a lot to encourage the early industry. Vineyards were planted near monasteries and were well-maintained by the church. The quality was fairly low, but wine proved to be popular with the Argentinian people.
It remained fairly small-scale until the mid-1800s. The quality had barely improved since the first wines were made. Because of this, there was little demand both in Argentina and the rest of the world.
This all changed when Chile modernized their production methods. Experts were brought from across the Americas, with new grape varieties and the most up-to-date technologies. Chile was soon exporting huge amounts of wine, giving the economy a huge boost.
Argentina realized that they could benefit immensely from this new industry because of their climate and soil. They started the process of modernizing its wine industry, and even had specialists arrived from France. The end goal was to create premium wines for export. It wasn’t long before investment money started pouring in from Europe. The quality of wine quickly started to improve.
Although the country doesn’t produce many white wines, its reds are some of the best. The most famous are the Malbec and Mendoza’s. These grow better in Argentina than anywhere else.
Mendoza is Argentina’s biggest wine producing district, responsible for about 60%. Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo are the varieties you will find most often. The La Rioja region is one of Argentina’s oldest in this industry. You can find some high quality wines here, especially in the Fatima Valley.
Next time you enjoy a glass of wine from South America, take a moment to appreciate Chile and a Frenchman named Claude Gay. As a wine expert, Gay realized that parts of Chile had huge potential. He petitioned the government for funds to modernize the Chilean industry. The promise of big returns and international prestige swayed them.
Before long, Chile was exporting high-quality wines to North America and Europe. Wealthy Chileans were making trips across the Atlantic to Europe at this time. They returned with European, mainly French, customs. Wine became fashionable, and vineyards based on French models were planted across the country.
By the end of the 19th century, this country was growing world-renowned wines. The conditions and influx of skilled wine producers established Chile as a wine producing nation. However, the early 20th century wasn’t kind. The country started down a path of isolationism. Wine exports dropped and the quality fell.
In the 1980s, Chile once again opened its borders for trade, and things started to pick up. Foreign influence lent a helping hand. Spanish wine producer Miguel Torres built a new winery in Chile and brought all the latest technology. Across the country, antiquated equipment was updated and new ways of working implemented.
The Colchagua Valley, situated about 100 miles south of Santiago, is a powerhouse of Chilean wine production. The climate is similar to California’s Napa Valley. Their best wines are red, especially the Syrah.
Next up is the Cachapoal Valley, home to Chile’s highest quality wines, especially the Merlots. The biggest producer of wine by volume, however, is the Maule Valley. It has plenty of vineyards to explore. Although the quality isn’t as high, there are still some known gems.
Australia doesn’t have any native grapes, but this country is one of the world’s largest producers of wine. Vines arrived with the First Fleet, 11 ships that carried the first British people over.
The Australian industry endured snobbery from the wine establishment during its early years. During a blind tasting in 1873, an Australian wine was highly commended by French judges. On learning that the wine was Australian, praise was instantly withdrawn. Another (French) winner was chosen in its place.
These knocks slowed the Australian wine industry but didn’t derail it. Their wine started to receive awards at prestigious European events, and the perception of Aussie wine shifted.
In the early days, they mainly produced fortified wines that were easier to store and more capable of surviving in the extreme heat. In the 1960s, attention turned to sweet and sparkling wine, as well as the red wine Australia later became famous for. Their started to gain popularity in Europe during the 1980s, and has remained one of the top countries in the world since then.
Hunter Valley in New South Wales is the place most people think of when Australian wine is mentioned. This is where you will find this country’s legendary Shiraz and Chardonnay.
The Barossa Valley in South Australia is a region with a strong winegrowing heritage. The most famous vineyards were planted by German settlers. Eden Valley, however, is the place to go to sample to Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon.
New Zealand might be one of the 21st centuries most talked about wine producers, but the country is still a baby in the grand scheme of things. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the wine industry really got started. This led to the creation of the most popular current wine (Sauvignon Blanc) in the 1970s.
Early colonizers of New Zealand enjoyed wine. Many people had small vineyards in their garden and made their own homemade wine. Although popular as an accompaniment to meals, there was no effort to create anything on a larger scale.
During the 1960s and 1970s, investors from Australia and the United States saw potential for big profits. They brought new grapes and encouraged large-scale production using modern techniques. New Zealand is in the early stages of its wine growing evolution. There is more potential for development than, perhaps, any other nation producing wine.
Its top wine region is Marlborough. Home to over two thirds of the countries vineyards, this is the best place to enjoy Pinot Noir and New Zealand’s famous Chardonnay. Hawkes Bay is another established wine region, where many of the best reds are produced. It’s a great place to enjoy wine festivals and experience New Zealand’s arts and crafts culture.
Wine production arrived in Mexico via the Spanish, who brought vines when they arrived. Mexico had its own grape varieties, but the Spanish were happy to discover their own grapes thrived here.
Wine quickly became popular, and the vineyards were thriving. The Spanish crown became unhappy with the competition and experienced a decrease in exports of its own wine. In 1699, Charles II outlawed wine making in Mexico. Only the Church was exempt, needing to maintain wine for holy mass.
The Mexican wine industry experienced a mini-recovery after Independence was declared. European immigrants assisted with planting and cultivation. Just when things were starting to look promising, the Mexican Revolution set wine production back again.
The story of modern Mexican wine begins in the 1970s. Different European grapes arrived, and numerous small, independent vineyards sprung up. U.S. producers, especially, are drawn to Mexico by the low costs and variety of sub climates which allow many different grapes to thrive. Mexican wine varieties are generating international acclaim these days. They’re also developing new strains of wine, often using unconventional blending of grapes.
Baja California produces most of Mexico’s wine and is home to over 150 wineries. Valle de Guadalupe is the main wine producing region. It’s famous for their mineral taste due to underwater irrigation systems.
The La Laguna region, between Durango and Coahula, is home to the oldest vines in Mexico, at the Casa Madero. These date back to 1597, planted by the Spanish conquistadors. Most of the vineyards are situated at 5,000 feet altitude. This climate is especially good for growing white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc.