North America

Producing 3 times the amount of wine than Australia, America is a force to be increasingly reckoned with on the world wine stage.

Wine making began erratically, like so many ‘New World’ countries, with early settlers coming to terms with existing domestic grape varieties as well as planting imported root-stock, predominantly from France and Germany.

Unlike Europe’s widespread vine family, Vinis Vinifera, most early North American wines were fermented from a close relative, Vinus Labrusca. Not a great success in its early days with wines we would today find rank and musky, but it was religious orders such as the Jesuits who first began importing more exciting and robust varieties and historically these were classed as  Mission grapes.

With a semblance of an internal wine culture, based mainly on the western seaboard, that provider of so many memorable movies, prohibition, came to town and all manufacture of alcohol across the states went into national decline. Between the two world wars the 20’s and late 30’s the sale of alcohol was banned and drinking of any form risked imprisonment. As a result, the newly planted European grapes were grubbed-up in favour of edible grapes and dried fruit production. The prohibition was followed by the Great Depression and America’s appetite was further eroded. As the industry slowly tried to re-build its early experimentation and success in wine making the Second World War loomed on America’s horizon adding a further hurdle to its renaissance. I suppose it was the sixties that finally gave the impetus to the production of wines we know today and its heartland, not surprisingly, was that Golden State – California.

California virtually invented the term boutique winery with parcels of land in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys invaded by forward looking and free thinking hippies, who had by the way often made small fortunes along America’s capitalist East Coast. Wineries were lovingly converted with high-tec the order of the day and lifestyle because the cry of many vineyard owners. With the foundation of the University of California in Davis and its world renowned department of Viticulture, wine making was singlehandedly moved from haphazard agricultural practise to an almost exact global science. Vines were studied, soil was analysed, planting and canopy management examined and some of the finest methods of fermentation established. California was the first state to establish a similar definition as France’s Appellation Controlee in the form of AVA or Approved Viticultural Area. This is a distinct help to the wine buyer although it refers more to a region than a guarantee of quality or a particular grape planting.

Almost all of the world’s foremost grapes are grown here, favourites being Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, followed by Merlot and Pinot Noir and perhaps less successfully Sauvignon Blanc. The ‘Rhone Rangers as they came to be known favoured Syrah and Viognier whilst the influence of Italian immigration provided Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. Increasingly welcome, Rieslings are beginning to filter through via the same limited export market, Americans drink most of their own wine themselves by the way. Paul Masson and Gallo have given England some of their most inexpensive brands, but the famous glamorous and exciting wines from the USA tend to be the most expensive on their arrival here.

Visitors to the area will no doubt have sat in a highway restaurant or bar and discovered the simple pleasures of jug wines built principally for local consumption normally made from Chenin, Colombard and Grenache. But one must applaud the grape variety that America has made its own – Zinfandel.

As a single variety red, Zinfandel can and usually does offer some of the best wines to grace our shores here although often at a high ‘boutique’ price. On the other side of the coin Zinfandel, with its rich red skins removed soon after fermentation, is more often found on supermarket shelves under the title ‘Blush’ a purely American invention to avoid accusations of a less than macho view of wine called Rosé from France. Often blush disappoints more mature palates, nevertheless, sells globally its vapid and often sweetened styles.

To provide even finer wines the new frontier winemakers in the 70’s and 80’s moved northwards from the often arid heat of California to the cooler regions of Oregon and Washington State. If California provides something akin to a Mediterranean climate, then Oregon with its cooler Northwest Pacific climate provided similar growing conditions to Burgundy in France. If Pinot Noir is your passion then this recent regional convert to Burgundian wine making practises should suit the palate well.

Chardonnay too can be leaner with more mineral notes than its Southern neighbour and has attracted serious investment in recent years from the Champagne oligarchs producing even more sophisticated sparkling wines.

In Washington too Pinot Noir has its proponents who are making rich mature yet delicate styles of red and white Burgundy with exciting Rieslings made in dry and sweeter late harvested wines.

In the East, New York State is now showing elegant Chardonnays from the increasingly important Finger Lakes in the far west of the state.

South America

It was the colonisation of Peru, Argentina and Chile by the Spanish conquistadors in the early part of the 16th Century that introduced amongst other things, the cultivated vine to South Americas. Around the middle of the 19th Century and as a result of the select few who had made fortunes out of South America’s mineral wealth and mining, toured Europe on the latter stages of the Grand Tour. These same wealthy travellers whose considerable land holding was to be part transformed to wine-making, returned from Europe with the first root-stock of principally Bordeaux varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Sauvignon and Semillon. What next occurred was one of the miracles of the global wine world. Within twenty years of their return, that louse we know as Phylloxera had devastated many of the French vineyards from which cuttings had been secured. Now fortunately for the French, Phylloxera did not manage to penetrate the vineyards of South America, either due to avid sandy dessert conditions in the North or near polar sub-zero extremes in the South, or simply because they could not traverse the mighty Andes Mountain Range. Whatever the reason the French, and Europe generally, will forever be in the debt of the collectors of vines as this Phylloxera-free rootstock was returned to many French regions and to this day indigenous European vines are grafted onto South American root-stock.


A long thin country running almost the length of South America with the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes range to the east.

The principal wine region of Chile is the vast Central Valley, which to us in England looks more like a vast plateau. It is cut through with sub-valleys of the rivers Maipo, Maule, Aconeagua and Cahapoal, names that will be familiar to Chilean wine fans. Modelling their presentation on California and Australia, wine labels from Chile offer the consumer simple information i.e grape variety, the producer’s name and the region of origin. Added to this, brand names have been developed for supermarket use. Once again Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay alongside Gewurztraminer and Riesling are the varieties with Sauvignon Blanc in the ascendency. A grape not universally known but grown widely in Chile is Pais, a dark red skinned grape worthy of a little more investigation. Other interesting varieties filtering through are Carmenère and Tannat, both inky red with Carmenère increasingly used to blend with Cabernet Sauvignon.


By far and away South America’s largest wine producer initially came to fame and an inexpensive bulk producer of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but with an increasingly stable political climate. Argentina is beginning to produce some first rate wines. Do keep an eye out for the tobacco laced, spicy Malbec and a newcomer to our shores the floral, aromatic white Torrentes grape.