Probably no other country on the planet is more closely associated in the popular imagination with wine than France, and there is a reason for that. Geographically situated between the influences of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, the country has a temperate climate with many different types of soil, which makes it excellent for growing a variety of grapes. In addition to favorable natural conditions, we should not count out the ingenuity and skills of the French people as an explanation. France has many top-class wines, but has also managed to classify and control them with greater precision than most other countries have done, although some critical voices have suggested that the French AOC system of certification for wines, cheeses and other agricultural products can at times be too rigid and bureaucratic. The Mediterranean city of Marseille (Massalia) was founded around 600 BC by Greek settlers. The art of winemaking may thus have been known on the coast of southern France, but it was the Romans who spread this knowledge throughout most regions of the country. In the late Roman Empire, Bishop Saint Martin of Tours (AD 316-397) spread both Christianity and viticulture, which remained a potent combination in medieval European monasteries.
Good wines depend upon several factors: The type or mix of grapes used, the climate and the soil at the vineyard and the skills of the winemaker. Wines from the best winemakers are called grand cru, French for “great growth,” and a wine produced in a year of optimal climatic conditions becomes a vintage wine. The best wines are stored in oak barrels and then bottles, sometimes for years. There are vineyards throughout much of France, but some of the most important regions include Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Languedoc-Roussillon, Alsace, the Rhône and the Loire Valley, beautiful Provence as well as the island of Corsica.
Bordeaux near the Atlantic coast of southwestern France is the world’s largest region for the making of fine wines. Viticulture here dates back to Roman times, but the history of Bordeaux as a major exporter begins in the High Middle Ages prior to the Hundred Years’ War, when the English were heavily involved in French affairs. Increased demand led to the expansion of local vineyards. The Bordeaux region is divided into 36 districts, which in turn are divided into communes, and within these communes are individual vineyards called châteaux. Almost 90% of the wine currently produced there is red. The best reds from this region have been highly priced by international buyers for centuries, yet Bordeaux alone produces anything from 500 million to almost a billion bottles of wine every year. Not all of it is of top quality.Almost all Bordeaux wines are blended wines made from a combination of different grapes, the most common red varieties being Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, which are now extensively used in other countries as well, and Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes for white ones such as the sweet dessert wines from the Sauternes area. In the view of Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, the foremost red wine districts within the region are Médoc north of the city as well as Pessac-Léognan in Graves just south of the city of Bordeaux. Some of the renowned brands are Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Margaux, Château Cheval Blanc and Château Pétrus. Burgundy (French: Bourgogne) north of Lyon in east-central France produces red and white wines in about equal measure. The most famous ones, often referred to as Burgundies, are red wines made from Pinot Noir or whites made from Chardonnay grapes. Chablis is a very dry white wine renowned for its taste and aroma. The five most important wine growing areas are Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise, Beaujolais and Mâcon. As with a number of other French regions, we have definite proof of viticulture in Burgundy only from the Roman period (second century AD), although it has been suggested that the local Celts practiced it even before the Roman conquest. Burgundy became an important wine producing region during Charlemagne’s era in the Early Middle Ages and has remained so ever since. Burgundy-type wines have been copied in a number of other countries, with varying success.
The pale or pinkish bubbly wine from the Champagne region east of Paris, the northernmost and coldest important area under the vines in France, has since at least the nineteenth century been associated with luxury and celebration. Champagne is made from the red Pinot Noir, the white Chardonnay or the dark Pinot Meunier grape. It is possible to make white wines from red grapes, but this is rarely done in practice simply because there is usually no important reason to do so. One of the few major exceptions to this rule is Champagne made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The French call such wines Blanc de Noirs, or “white of blacks.”
Important Champagne brands include Dom Pérignon, named after the seventeenth-century Benedictine monk who made major contributions to the development of this wine, Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, Pommery and Laurent-Perrier. While the popularity of this sparkling wine from Champagne had increased since the seventeenth century, many technical problems hampered its further growth. Too many bottles still exploded in the cellars or contained too little gas. Some of these problems were solved thanks to the efforts of Madame Clicquot in the early nineteenth century. Hugh Johnson writes in The Story of Wine:
Champagne and Sherry led the way with their use of capital-intensive industrial techniques to make modern wines. From a total sales figure for sparkling Champagne at the end of the eighteenth century of perhaps 300,000 bottles, after the industrialization of methods the annual sales had reached twenty million bottles by 1853. Aided by railroads, motorized ships, automobiles and airplanes, sales continued to grow throughout the twentieth century, reaching 200 million bottles of Champagne annually at the turn of the twenty-first century.
“In all of history only one woman is known as ‘the widow’, without qualification. It if is true that the perfectionism of Dom Pérignon earned for Champagne a unique place as the wine of princes and palaces throughout Europe, it is no less true that Nicole-Barbe Clicquot-Ponsardin, widowed with a baby daughter in 1805 at the age of twenty-seven, found the way to make it the celebratory wine of the entire world. The Russians, with their unerring taste for the most effective liquor, were her improbable allies in her enterprise – not her countrymen (though many were her rivals), nor the British, whose bilious taste for brandied wine only gave way to Champagne later in the century. In Russia she conquered a wider market for her sparkling wine than Champagne had ever known. In order to supply it she was obliged to industrialize its manufacture. The firm her husband started was a little country practice; as a widow she transformed its yellow label into the most widely recognized on earth.”
The Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, stretching from Provence along the Mediterranean coastline to the Pyrenees and the Spanish border, is in terms of the sheer bulk of production the single most important wine-growing region in France, and maybe the world. Alsace close to the German border is a white wine region, although some red and rosé wines are made there, too. With its Germanic cultural ties, Alsace makes some of the best French beers, next to the northern regions close to beer-drinking Belgium and the Netherlands.
Producers in the Loire Valley make mainly white wines. The Château de Goulaine in the Loire Valley claims to have produced wines under the same family for over 1000 years. Those in the Rhône region of southern France next to the Rhône river valley from Lyon to Avignon produce mainly red ones, many of them from the dark-skinned Syrah grape, but white wines from the aromatic Viognier grape are made, too. The French combine local wines with many different types of food, among them the hundreds of national varieties of cheese.
The Etruscans in north-central Italy grew and traded wine before the Roman era. We know that the Greeks grew vines in the Italian south during their colonization movement. Syracuse in Sicily, founded in the 700s BC, was one of the most populous Greek cities and home to such great figures as the natural philosopher and mathematician Archimedes. Viticulture flourished in Roman times when it spread to every part of the Empire where grapes could be grown. Pompeii near modern Naples was a center of the Roman wine trade similar to what Bordeaux would later become in France. Together with its sister city Herculaneum it was buried during an eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Because Pompeii was buried under a thick layer of ash and pumice until excavations began in the eighteenth century, it provides us with a unique snapshot of Roman daily life, literally frozen in time.
According to Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, Italy has creativity and good taste, but less precision and regulation of its winemaking industry than France. Perhaps no other country has a greater variety of local styles and grape varieties than Italy. The Italian Peninsula is blessed with plenty of sunshine and interesting local climatic variations due to its many mountains. Whereas wine can be successfully produced in only some parts of Germany, it can be grown in almost all regions of Spain and Italy. Grapes are grown from Lombardy in the north via Umbria and Marche east of Rome to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia in the south. The best-known Italian wines abroad are clearly the red ones, but the country produces some decent white ones, too. To an Italian meal, wine often plays the most important supporting role. One of the most significant wines produced in the northwest is Piemonte wine, made in the province of Piedmont with its capital Turin close to the Alps. The types of wine - like the topography and climate - vary to the extreme in this region. They include red wines like Barolo and Barbaresco, made from the Nebbiolo grape, but the red Barbera grape is common, too. The sparkling wine Asti is made from the white Muscat grape. Northeastern Italy north of Venice is white wine territory, with its famous Soave wines made from the local Garganega grape. Northern Italy between Milan, Turin and Genoa is the most affluent part of the country. The technology of winemaking is more sophisticated here than elsewhere in the Peninsula, thanks in part to the demand from neighboring Germany, Austria and Switzerland as well as more distant markets such as the USA and Britain. Two of the country’s leading wine schools are situated here, and Italy’s most important wine fair is held each spring in Verona.Tuscany, with the great historical cities Florence, Siena and Pisa, is above all known for its Chianti wines, probably the most famous wines of all Italy. The Chianti Classico region stretches from Florence to Siena. The Italian statesman Bettino Ricasoli (1809-1880) had a powerful influence on Tuscan wine and created the modern recipe of Chianti wine, with the red Sangiovese grape as its base. The Antinori family have made Chianti wine since the fourteenth century and led a renewal of the Tuscan wine industry in the twentieth century by bringing in new ideas and French grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon in addition to traditional ones like Sangiovese. These new red wines defied traditional Italian classification but were highly successful from the 1970s onward and were termed “Super Tuscans.” Dry white Frascati wines come from the Latium region near Rome. Central Italy is blessed with perfect natural conditions for the creation of fine wines. Winemakers have modernized in recent years and introduced international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, the Pinots, Chardonnay and Sauvignon in addition to native varieties. The sunny regions south of Naples, including Sicily, have often been known more for the quantity than the quality of wine produced there, but they, too, have improved significantly in recent years and contributed to the growing reputation of Italian wine among international consumers. Southern Italy has long been famous for making inexpensive wines full of taste.
Traditionally, the history of viticulture in the Iberian Peninsula has been taken to start when the Phoenicians founded the trading post of Cádiz in Andalusia around 1100 BC. However, while the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Romans contributed greatly to the spread of viticulture throughout the Mediterranean region and beyond, it is possible that native Iberians cultivated vines before the Phoenicians and the Phoenician-derived culture of the city of Carthage exercised any significant influence there. Andalusia is today world famous for its Sherry, a fortified wine produced mainly in the Jerez de la Frontera area. When Ferdinand Magellan and his crew in 1519 left Seville for what was to become the first successful circumnavigation of the Earth, they spent more money on Sherry than on armaments. Most of Spain, with the exception of certain mountainous areas, is excellent for growing grapes, the major challenge being the dry climate in some regions. The country is currently one of the largest producers of wine in the world, next to France and Italy. Viticulture is practiced everywhere in the Peninsula, from fertile Galicia on the Atlantic coast to the Canary Islands, the volcanic archipelago off the west coast of North Africa. La Rioja and Navarra in the north, Castilla-La Mancha south of Madrid and Catalunya in the east produce some of the best Spanish brands. Much of the production is exported, but Spaniards themselves are great consumers of the liquid. The white or pink sparkling wine known as Cava is Spain’s equivalent of France’s Champagne, made with similar methods but from different grapes. 95% of it is produced in Catalonia, most of it in the Penedès region just outside of Barcelona, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and with some of its most delicious food.
La Rioja is justly famous for its high-quality red wines, yet the Ribera del Duero region east of Valladolid and north of Madrid has due to investments and expertise after 1980 challenged Rioja as the foremost red wine region in Spain. Both regions make extensive use of the native Spanish black grape known as Tempranillo. Ribera del Duero is situated around the Duero River, which, as it flows west into Portugal, becomes the Douro Valley, home to the Portuguese vineyards that give rise to Port. Port wine is a fortified wine, i.e. one with a heightened content of alcohol (about 20%) due to added distilled beverages such as brandy. It is typically a sweet red wine, but it does exist in other varieties and is often served as a dessert wine. It received its name in the seventeenth century when much of it was exported to other European countries via Porto in northern Portugal, at the mouth of the Douro River.
Famous fortified wines include Port and Madeira from Portugal, Sherry from Spain, Vermouth from France and Marsala from Italy. During the early modern period, when a number of Western European nations engaged in frequent travels to distant lands, there was a growing market for fortified wines such as Port, Madeira and Sherry. These were well suited to survive long sea voyages due to their high content of alcohol, which functions as a natural preservative. Only later did they become appreciated in their own right because of their flavor. While Portugal’s international reputation is based primarily on fortified wines, the country also produces some fine table wines, particularly in the north.
Portugal has retained many of its local grape varieties while updating its techniques, which has allowed it to produce modern red and white wines with a distinct taste. As with their Spanish neighbors, Portuguese viticulture owes a lot to the ancient Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks and above all the Romans. These traditions were disrupted during centuries of Islamic rule but were gradually restored after the Christian Reconquista. Portuguese wines are produced from the northern regions via Algarve to the Azores. Dão and Bairrada, between the cities of Porto and Lisbon, are home to some of the country’s oldest wine districts. The Madeira Islands in the Atlantic Ocean produce the popular Madeira, a fortified wine which along with Port is among the world’s foremost strong, sweet wines.
Germany is rightfully considered beer territory, but also includes some of Europe’s most northerly significant vineyards. Much of present-day Germany was never a part of the wine-loving Roman Empire, but the regions in the far west and south were. This is where we find the oldest cities - Cologne (Köln), Trier and Augsburg - and the most important wine districts today. The primary area is the Rhine region in the southwest close to the border of France. German viticulture stretches in a belt beginning south of Cologne via Bonn, Mainz and Trier on the banks of the Moselle River to Heidelberg, Karlsruhe and Stuttgart and on to Freiburg and the Black Forest (German: Schwarzwald) region close to the border of Switzerland. Just like their Swiss neighbors, the people of the Black Forest are clockmakers who have made cuckoo clocks since the early eighteenth century. In addition to these regions there are a few vineyards in East Germany in the Dresden area of Saxony and along the river Elbe.
White wine accounts for the bulk of production and for the vast majority of German export wines. Red wines are challenging to produce in this chilly climate. Some reds are nevertheless grown here, much-appreciated by the locals. German white wines include cheap ones of low quality in addition to some of the highest international standing. Especially cherished are those made from the aromatic white grape known as Riesling, which together with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most highly regarded white grape varieties in the world, grown in Austria, Luxembourg, Australia, New Zealand, North America, the Ukraine and even in China. In addition to Riesling, Müller-Thurgau is a commonly used white variety, and Gewürztraminer is another aromatic wine grape. For reds, Spätburgunder, the German name for Pinot Noir, is the leading grape. One specialty is icewine (German: Eiswein), a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The most expensive ones of these are usually made in either Germany or Canada.
The most internationally renowned wine regions are those of Continental Western Europe described above, but grapes have historically been grown in most regions of the continent except the far north. In the Nordic countries, a few decent wines have been created in Denmark and southern Sweden, and on rare occasions in Finland or Norway, but these countries are probably too cold to ever become major producers of this particular beverage. That doesn’t mean that Scandinavians cannot leave their mark elsewhere. In the Ribera del Duero region, oenologist Peter Sisseck from Denmark in 1995 established the winery Dominio de Pingus, which soon made one of the rarest and most expensive wines in Spain.
As mentioned before, it is conceivable that fermented beverages were produced in prehistoric times before the introduction of agriculture, for instance based on honey or wild berries instead of grains or grapes. Alcoholic beverages made from fruits or berries enjoy some commercial importance today, especially in cold climates but also in warmer regions based on pineapple or other tropical fruits. Since “wine” is usually defined as a beverage made from grapes, fermented beverages derived from other fruits are often called fruit wines. When the sugar source for fermentation is apple, the beverage is called a cider; perry if it has been made of fermented pear juice. Cherry and black currant wines are made in chilly Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Poland. Plum wine and cherry wine are popular among many home winemakers and plum wine is fairly common in Korea, Japan and to some extent in China.
The Romans introduced permanent roads to Britain for the first time, a necessity for a highly organized and military society. In addition, they brought with them a literate culture and the creation of towns with public buildings and theaters. Finally, they brought the knowledge of wine. The Domesday Book, the remarkably detailed survey of England completed in 1086 for William the Conqueror, mentions forty-two vineyards. English vineyards existed as an accompaniment to castles or monasteries in the south, but they were never extensive. We know that wine was produced in Wales and southern England in medieval times, but the local climate is challenging and imports from France and Continental Europe made it difficult to establish a financially viable industry there. The same goes for Scotland. Most Welsh and English wines produced today, and there are some, are white, similar to the majority of those from Germany and other northerly regions such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland.
Although the British have never been major producers of wine, they have sometimes had a significant impact on the development of wine-related technology. Many wines improve in quality during barrel and bottle storage, but the ancient Greeks and Romans drank almost all of their wines within a year of production. The Englishman Kenelm Digby in the seventeenth century has been credited with the creation of the modern wine bottle by making bottles in his coal-fired glass house that were stronger and cheaper than before. This made it possible to store wine longer and let it mature for years. The shape of the bottle changed to accommodate these developments. It is not a coincidence that many wines that we now consider classics, for instance the Port wine from Portugal which became popular with British consumers, can be dated back to this era. The bottles used for Port changed radically during the course of the eighteenth century and resembled modern glass bottles in shape by the late 1700s.
The Swiss are enthusiastic wine drinkers, yet only a tiny amount of Swiss wine is exported, in sharp contrast to Swiss cheese or chocolate which is world famous. Vineyards can be found in almost all cantons, even north of Zürich, but especially concentrated in the French-speaking regions of the south and west, around Geneva, Lausanne and Neuchâtel. Most Swiss red wine is grown in the Italian-speaking region of Ticino, the southernmost canton of Switzerland. Austrians make more red wines than the Germans do, although white ones predominate here as well. Vineyards can be found within the city limits of Vienna itself. Most major wine regions, including Wachau, Burgenland, Kremstal and Kamptal, are concentrated in the east, from Graz to Vienna, in a belt stretching along the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia. Austrians also manufacture high-quality wine glasses. Wine is grown in many parts of Hungary, from scenic Lake Balaton via the outskirts of the city of Budapest to the Romanian border. The most famous Hungarian wine is Tokay, a white dessert wine. In the Czech Republic, grapes are grown in both Moravia and Bohemia. Although Czech wines are popular locally, they are not nearly as well-known abroad as Czech beer. Wine is produced more extensively in neighboring Slovakia, especially around the capital city of Bratislava in the southwest and in the east close to the borders of Hungary and the Ukraine. Wine was grown in Slovenia, which borders Italy in the west, the Alps in the north and the Adriatic Sea and Croatia in the south, before the Roman period, at least since the time of the Celts and the Illyrians tribes. Most Slovenian wines are white and consumed locally, just as they are in Switzerland. Primorska is currently Slovenia’s most prominent wine region. In the Balkans, Croatia is a traditional wine country, with grapes grown for both red and white ones inland in the Zagreb region, but especially along the Dalmatian Coast, from Split to Dubrovnik. Croatians have a rich tradition of employing indigenous grape varieties. Wines are made in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Montenegro, in Albania and in Macedonia from the city of Skopje to the border of Greece. Wines in Serbia are especially grown south of the river Danube, starting from Belgrade and continuing southwards and eastwards, although vineyards exist further north as well. Most Serbian wine is still consumed locally. The Ottoman Turks, as Muslims, previously disrupted the wine traditions in this region. The most successful wine exporting countries in Eastern Europe in recent years are the ones close to the Black Sea, Romania, the former Soviet republic of Moldova and especially Bulgaria.
Bulgarian wine production dates back to ancient times, at least to the Thracians, but it was the Romans who truly developed the local wine industry, followed in the Middle Ages by the Christian Church with its monks and monasteries. The Rila Monastery was founded in the tenth century by St John of Rila, a hermit canonized by the Orthodox Church. As in Serbia and Greece, Bulgarian monasteries played an important role in preserving an Orthodox Christian cultural identity during centuries of Islamic occupation. A cultural revival followed by armed rebellion in the late nineteenth century was brutally suppressed by the Turks, before Bulgarians finally achieved independence. Decent wines are grown around the city of Varna on the beautiful Black Sea coast and inland to the south and the regions north of the capital city of Sofia, south of the Danube. Subsequent to the downfall of Soviet-sponsored Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, Bulgarian vineyards benefitted from widespread privatization and substantial investments in new technology. The vineyards use both local grape varieties and international ones such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.
Romania has linguistic and cultural ties to France and Italy. The Greeks brought vines here 3000 years ago, and in post-Roman times, German colonists introduced new grape varieties to Transylvania. The pest phylloxera in the 1880s destroyed many vineyards here as elsewhere in Europe. Some grape varieties have been introduced from France, but a number of indigenous grapes remain in use, too. Wine is grown next to Hungary in the west, Serbia and Bulgaria in the south, Moldova and the Ukraine in the east and near the coastline east of Bucharest. The Black Sea, the Danube Delta and the mild climate create a welcome place for grape vines to thrive. Romanian wine has been known more for the cheap price than the quality, but Romanians are making an effort to study advances in wine technology, plant physiology and pathology, stainless steel storage tanks, mechanical grape harvesters etc. Most wine is consumed locally, but Romania is nevertheless a major exporter of affordable wines.
Wine production, although again mainly for local consumption, continues east along the northern coast of the Black Sea, via Odessa and the Crimea in the Ukraine and southern Russia to Georgia, Armenia and the Caspian Sea. Locally produced wine can be found just outside of the Armenian capital city of Yerevan or in Tbilisi in Georgia, which rank among some of the oldest wine producing areas in the world, possibly the oldest of them all. Few people did more in ancient times to spread the knowledge and love of wine than the Greeks, and this heritage is upheld in modern Greece. Local grape varieties, some of them with roots back to Antiquity, are now grown next to imported ones that are popular with international consumers. There are significant climatic and topographic differences between the northern regions, say, the districts north of Thessaloniki, and the Peloponnese peninsula south of Athens, and this obviously has consequences for the types of wines produced in the different districts. Wine was a major trade item in ancient times, and Greek wines, both from the mainland and from islands such as Crete, were very popular. Wine was exploited in Crete by the Minoans before 2000 BC, and Cretan wines were highly priced as export products in late medieval Europe. Some of the Aegean Islands, for instance Rhodes and Samos, still have significant industries, although the most original wines are arguably produced on the volcanic island of Santorini. Cyprus, too, has one of the oldest wine cultures in the world, with Cypriot wine being traded at least as early as 2300 BC. The western Mediterranean island of Malta has long winemaking traditions as well.
Viticulture in Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa has been severely hampered by centuries of Muslim rule, with the Jewish state of Israel, some still-Christian regions of Lebanon and a few pockets in North Africa as notable exceptions. While you can still find traces of winemaking in North African countries such as Algeria and Morocco, which owe more to recent French influences than to ancient Roman ones, the most important wine country on the African continent by far is South Africa, especially the region surrounding Cape Town where many wines of good international export quality are created. European, especially Dutch, settlers planted European vines here as early as in the seventeenth century.The Phoenician wine traditions were barely tolerated for Christians under Islamic rule, but Lebanese wine production was partly revived under French colonial influence in the nineteenth century and still remains significant, with a few brands of good international standard. Israel has an export industry of kosher wine, produced according to Jewish religious dietary laws. The modern wine industry there was founded by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, owner of the estate Château Lafite-Rothschild in Bordeaux, a French member of the influential Rothschild family of European Jewish bankers and an ardent Zionist. Centuries of Islamic rule had virtually decimated the ancient viticulture in the region based on native grape varieties. Consequently, Israeli wines are primarily based on imported French grapes.
In the late twentieth century, European producers had to face increasingly serious challenges in the creation of affordable quality wines from some former European colonies. Innovation and experimentation in the Americas and in Australia has inspired new thinking among Old World producers. According to The World Atlas of Wine, 6th edition, by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, Canadian wine is produced close to the city of Vancouver on the Pacific coast, in Nova Scotia on the Atlantic coast and especially in Ontario south of Toronto, the Niagara Peninsula next to the Great Lakes and the US border being the country’s most prominent region in this regard. Icewine is chilly Canada’s most important export wine.
Some vineyards exist in Mexico as well, but they lag behind their northern neighbors in development. Because the US market is so enormous, American tastes are of great importance to producers everywhere. The opinions of US wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. and his ratings have had a major influence not just on consumers but on makers of wine, even in other countries. Wine is grown is virtually all states in the USA, among them Washington State, Oregon, New York and Pennsylvania, yet California is by far the most important region under the vines in the New World, dwarfing the output of the rest of North America combined.
Vitis vinifera, the European grapevine, was introduced to California by the Spanish in the eighteenth century. The current industry, established after the end of the Prohibition of alcoholic beverages in the United States (1919-1933), began when the Russian winemaker André Tchelistcheff (1901-1994), who had studied fermentation and microbiology in Europe, arrived in Napa Valley, California in 1937. The international breakthrough for the American industry began with a famous wine competition organized in Paris in 1976, where French judges did blind tasting of top-quality wines from France and California and ranked the Californian ones as best in each category. The so-called Zinfandel grape may have originated in Croatia and was transferred to the United States in the nineteenth century. It is now grown primarily in California and the USA and can here produce quality wines comparable to many good European ones. California alone currently produces more wine annually than the entire continent of Australia, which has itself become a major global player in the industry.
Spanish missionaries brought viticulture to their new Latin American colonies in the sixteenth century. Wine is produced in Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Uruguay and Brazil, but above all in Chile and Argentina, which are clearly the most internationally significant exporters of inexpensive, yet perfectly decent wines in this part of the world. According to the respected English wine writer Robert “Oz” Clarke, New World wines are more adventurous than their European counterparts. In Chile, Argentina, the United States, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, winemakers are exploring, creating and thriving. “The wine world,” he notes, “has never been wider open or more interesting, and your children may be drinking altogether different wines than you are.” When asked to name the most exciting wines in the world, he mentions Chile for its Merlots, Cabernets and Carmenères; and Argentina, where Malbec, Bonarda and Torrontés (an indigenous white variety) are the cutting-edge grapes.British settlers brought vines to Australia and New Zealand. Good but not necessarily cheap wines are grown on both North Island and South Island in New Zealand. Making wines in dry Australia is challenging, but technological advances have made this possible. Breakthroughs in cooling techniques proved a major advance for viticulture in warmer regions, and new means of transportation made possible global exports of bulky goods. Because of Australia's fine weather, vintages are slightly less important there than in Europe, where bad weather can potentially ruin a crop. Australia has developed distinct styles that it can call its own. Wine production is concentrated in the southeast, from the Adelaide region via Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney to Brisbane, with some additional production near Perth in Western Australia. The Shiraz grape (known as Syrah in France) produces fine red wines, as does the Cabernet Sauvignon. Tasmania is a cool climate region best suited to white grape varieties.
The largest Asian producer of wine is Japan, although some production takes place in South Korea and increasingly in China and other countries. This production is not yet internationally significant, and these countries all have their own traditional alcoholic beverages that differ substantially from the Western ones, but the trend could potentially become interesting in the future. The increasingly affluent Asian middle classes have developed a taste for Western-style wines and beers, and while they primarily import Western brands for now, it is not unthinkable that they may decide to produce more of it themselves in the future. These nations certainly have the financial and technological means to do so if they want to.
In writing this, I am not condoning excessive use of alcoholic beverages, just like I am not condoning excessive use of many other things. Since ancient times, the mantra has been that the use of wine in moderate amounts is fine, but excessive drinking is a vice. This is still sound advice. People who drink too much and proceed to beat family members do unfortunately exist. Alcohol-induced violence or health problems constitute serious problems. There are persons who are predisposed for alcoholism, possibly genetically, and are incapable of limiting themselves to consuming only modest amounts of alcohol if they drink any at all.
For most of us, however, a glass of fine wine or beer constitutes a source of joy when taken in good company, or next to a fine meal. A disproportionate amount of the wines and beers enjoyed for celebration and socializing around the world come from the European wine- and beer-making traditions, directly or indirectly. Even those brands that are not made in Europe, for instance wines from Australia or Argentina, stem historically from the European wine culture and use grape varieties brought there by Portuguese, Spanish, French or Italian settlers. The same goes for beers from the Unites States and Canada, which are often local versions derived from original German, Dutch, Czech, British, Irish, Flemish or Danish beers.
The history of alcoholic beverages forms an important part of European culture and reflects the development of European civilization itself. From the wines enjoyed by the ancient Greeks and Romans we have the medieval monasteries, the development of urban capitalism and the growth of science and industry. Europeans got some of the fundamental building blocs of civilization such as agriculture and writing from the Fertile Crescent. It is likely that early European beers in 3000 or 4000 BC closely resembled Mesopotamian ones.
However, Europeans eventually progressed far beyond anything achieved in the Middle East either in ancient, medieval or modern times. Modern beers produced in twenty-first century Europe have very little in common with original Mesopotamian beers apart from the name and the fact that they are fermented beverages made from cereals. Although alcoholic drinks have been produced for thousands of years by the Chinese, the Koreans, the Japanese, the Persians, the Sumerians, the Egyptians, the Aztecs and the Incas, the Europeans were the only ones to provide a correct scientific explanation for the fermentation process and establish truly scientific brewing. This mirrors society in general and illustrates the fact that modern science was born in Europe, not anywhere else.