Of all the world’s most important wine regions, Burgundy is regarded as the most difficult to comprehend. Burgundy (or Bourgogne to use its French name) runs down the eastern side of France, from Chablis in the north to Lyon in the south, with the renowned Côte d’Or (golden slope) at its heart. The footprint of its entire vineyard area is a mere 20% of the Bordeaux region across in western France. The great reds of Burgundy are made almost entirely from the capricious Pinot Noir grape, and the whites from the now ubiquitous Chardonnay. Unlike the great reds of Bordeaux blending is rare, in Burgundy purity of fruit is the mantra.


The Rhône is a river instigated by glacial melt in the north, cutting steep valley sides down to the warm Camargue delta in the south, where vineyards are caressed by the warm Provençal sunshine. Viticulturally, the Rhône is divided into two distinct wine making regions with muscular, dark and tannic reds in the north and warm, rich turbo-charged reds such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras dominating the south. Stylistically, Syrah is the dominant grape variety, with acres of Grenache Rouge providing the world with the often uncomplicated, Côtes-du-Rhône style.


Most visitors to Greece frequently repeat the thorny tale that Greek grape varieties were, to many early tourists, almost unpronounceable, and sounded as if someone had bumped into the Scrabble board in the middle of a game. Their principal culinary memory was of the citrus and pine-nuanced Retsina, gulped down to regulate the earthy flavours of stuffed vine leaves or gelatinous lamb shanks. Greek wine today offers so very much more. As one of the last guardians of a truly Mediterranean diet, Greece and its wines provide a gastronomic logic that will surprise and thrill. We have selected two racy, crackling-dry varieties from the Attica region – Savatiano and Malagouzia.


Despite the frequency of war, occupation, and its accompanying tensions, wine has been made here for millennia – Lebanese winemakers are clearly resilient. To many, Château Musar is Lebanese wine, but our additional discovery of the wines of Domaine des Tourelles, especially the recent release of Old Vine Cinsault, demonstrates just how determined and talented their winemakers still are.


It is redolent of a ‘can-do’ attitude that has made the USA the fourth largest producer of table wine in the world – only France, Italy and Spain provide more – with 90% of North American wine being produced in California. In contrast, Australia produces a mere third of this volume. Californian producers have garnered most of the Old World French grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Syrah and Viognier, and a few from Italy too – Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. Notably it was a grape of Italian descent- Primitivo that appears to have genetically transformed itself into California’s indigenous world-class variety – Zinfandel. A noble grape that can make richly spiced, ripe-fruited and vivacious reds when left to individuals, but when in the hands of corporate giants, and much of California’s wines are, it can turn into vapid pink, convenience store wine under the guise of White Zinfandel or ‘Blush’. In stark contrast are the elegant, cool-climate grapes such as German Riesling and the Burgundian Pinot Noir, which are carefully nurtured further north in Oregon and Washington, although like Burgundy, Oregon Pinot Noirs often require a bank-loan to buy a case.

South Africa.

So bound by politics during the last quarter of a century, wine history shadows the dramatic change in human fortune. Apartheid began to be dismantled only as recently as 1992 and the country swiftly embarked on its long overdue global engagement. Due to its former international isolation, South African viticulture had lagged behind so many emergent New World wine making countries. But the race had begun to compete in international markets, and compete it has. Today the uncomplicated and relatively inexpensive white wines we associate with South Africa, born of vineyards radiating from Cape Town, are Colombard and Chenin Blanc. But in cooler areas the vineyards can deliver apple-crisp Sauvignon Blanc and some compelling Pinot Noir. Inland, emanating from the region of Stellenboch, we taste the beating heart of South African red wine – Pinotage. A wine perhaps not for the gentle-hearted, this cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, displays roasted flavors with a robust fruitiness and almost always benefits from a little taming in oak.


Spain has more land under vine than any other European country. The landscape is wildly diverse, with forbidding mountain ranges, arid, desert-like plains, forested hillsides and pastured fields. The wines too offer many stark contrasts, and following a somewhat overdue renaissance, its 67 classified winemaking regions (DO denominación de origen) are now peppered by dynamic producers eager to present their achievements to a global audience. The power and exuberance of many new-generation wines, beyond the familiar, mellow style of Rioja, deserve much greater attention. From Ribera del Duero to Priorato, Galicia to Rueda, the renewed pride in Spanish winemaking is tangible. Glorious white wines such as Albariño and Verdejo, warming, vanilla-laden reds with blends of Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan), sparkling Cava from Catalonia, now sit alongside the huge revival of interest in the oxidative tang of Sherry.


Across rural landscapes, many of which have barely changed since they featured in Renaissance paintings, the triumvirate of bread, olives and wine still dominate the culture that underpins Italian cuisine. A country that stretches from the Alpine north, where the constant backdrop to the Piedmont hills are snow clad mountains, to the Isle of Sicily lying further south than the northern coastline of Africa, Italy boasts over 2000 indigenous grape varieties.

Is it any wonder that when it comes to selecting a wine, confusion often claims the upper hand? As we have all finally come to terms with France naming its wines after small villages and Australia naming its wines after imported grape varieties, the Italian jury remains resolutely undecided. Familiar town and village names such as Chianti, Barbaresco or Barolo sit alongside wines named after grape varieties such as Falanghina, Aglianico or Barbera, both offering little guidance for the unwary. But if we manage to put aside the hedonistic and chaotic aspects that Italian winemaking frequently displays, and regard selection as an adventure rather than an assignment, there are scores of wines offering such excitement and energy, that they are almost unrivalled in any other wine making country in the world.


The Loire valley snakes its languorous course through some of France’s most diverse and underrated wine regions. As the longest river in France- slightly in excesss of 1000 kilometres – the Loire rises in the country’s volcanic centre, before passing around the medieval towns of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé; both of which have traditionally encapsulated the true heartland of Sauvignon Blanc. Meandering westward to the Middle Loire it is Chenin Blanc that now dominates many of the vineyards, providing a myriad of vinous expressions from crackling dry to sparkling, demi-sec to honey-sweet, before finally passing through the oft-overlooked Muscadet region, and exiting into the Atlantic Ocean.


If Chile boasts the consistency of a Mediterranean climate, Argentina has to contend with a range of less predictable continental microclimates. Wine profiles vary widely here too but provide unusual and exciting wines. Following the demands of an unfettered wine-drinking public, unique varieties such as Torrontés, on vacation from its native Spain, has proved something of a contemporary food friendly wine with its crisp grip and delightful spice-scented aromas. Argentina has in turn tamed the robustly tannic, dark skinned Tannat from Madiran in France, to provide a far more approachable red. A necessary partner should any protein tumescent Argentinian beef, be lowered before you.

And who can overlook Malbec? Originating from a quiet corner in SW France (where it is still known as Côt) Malbec has now been formerly adopted as Argentina’s greatest red variety. Having initially taken Mendoza by stealth, it latterly appears to have taken the world by storm.


In marked contrast to the Old World, many Australian wines tend to be defined more by the relentlessly warm climate than by the influence of the soil. Although Australia is a vast country, with a landmass capable of hiding the United Kingdom 30 times over, its vineyards are confined to the cooler southern regions furthest from the equator. Its impact on the wine world over the last 30 years has been immeasurable, with its unabashed employment of available modern technology, a pragmatic approach to growing, irrigating and blending and marketing skills that would put many a European grower to shame. They also taught us to use the names of the noble French grape varieties. This combination has granted the wines of Australia a global reach and a willing audience as far afield as Japan, North America, UK and Scandinavia, and all since the launch of the first commercial Chardonnay a mere 40 years ago. Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Semillon were some of the other notable varieties that quickly followed suit in captivating the wine world’s attention.


If one were to name a perfect wine-producing environment, then Chile may well steal the trophy. Snow-melt from the Andes provides natural irrigation across the vast plains that sit conveniently at the foot of its mountains, vines have few perceptible disease problems, costs are low, the summers are predictably warm and the climate dependably dry. Such a formula, allied with historically competitive pricing, has created relentlessly commercial, high-volume winemaking, which to be fair has entranced wine drinkers the world over. Wines, at least the reds, are sweet-fruited with naturally soft tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot thrive, but the former hero of Bordeaux blending and the newly fashionable Carmenère grape, has become firmly identified as the long term resident – now bordering on squatter’s rights. Judicious planting and a better understanding of site-specific viticulture have begun to produce some attractive white varieties, which supply a welcome citrus zing and a marked freshness. Chardonnay is leading the charge here.