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Contents.


[Wine Tasting | Grape Varieties. | Country Maps.]

[French Wine. | Australian Wine. | Italian Wine. | Spanish Wine. |
German Wine. | Austrian Wine. | Bulgarian Wine. | South African Wine. |
North American Wine. | Argentinian Wine.]

[Champagne. | Port.]












Australian Wine.



This section is a brief guide to the variety of wines produced in the regions and states of Australia. It is divided primarily into the following states;
Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania.

Western Australia.


Great Southern.

Cabernet Sauvignon thrives across the length and breadth of the region, producing long-lived wines of deep colour, intense flavour and powerful structure. They are in every sense classic Cabernets, with an austerity to the flavour, and a briary toughness to the young wines which demands patience but which richly rewards it.
The renaissance in the fortunes of Shiraz has served to intensify the pressure on the limited, but exceptionally high quality, quantities of Shiraz produced in the region. It exhibits a compelling combination of liquorice, spice, pepper, black cherry and plum; happily, almost all makers avoid the temptation of smothering it in American oak, allowing the spectacular fruit quality free reign to express itself.
Until recently, regarded as the preserve of the southern area around Denmark and Albany, but some exciting wines have started to appear from Mount Barker - a development predicted by the eminent research viticulturist Dr John Gladstones.
Vies with Cabernet Sauvignon as the most important wine from the region, even though - relatively speaking - it is an unfashionable variety. Its importance derives directly from the quality of the wine, which ranks with the best of the Clare and Eden Valleys of South Australia. Like the Riesling of those regions, it ages superbly, seldom reaching the peak of its development in less than 10 years. While tending crisp and lean in its youth, it does have intense flavour, typically in the citrus spectrum (an underlay of herbs) and inevitably most is consumed within 12 months or so of vintage.
Elegant, tightly structured, grapefruit-accented Chardonnay which ages well is produced in ever-increasing quantities. Notwithstanding the shift in climate from south to north, the style is relatively consistent; perhaps that of the south is a little finer and softer, that of the north more powerful, but there is little in it.

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Margaret River.

Virtually every winery produces a Cabernet, although Merlot is an increasingly common blend component. The style has evolved over the decades, with a cross-hatch of winemaker/viticulturist inputs giving rise to a number of distinctive and stylish interpretations of Cabernet (and Merlot). The common threads are physiologically ripe grapes which provide a sweet core to all the wines, which are never leafy or herbal, and often slightly earthy/gravelly tannins which need to be controlled but which provide complexity, authority and structure.
Leeuwin Estate was one of the pioneers of Chardonnay in the region, and on the reckoning of many is one of Australia's greatest examples of the breed, if not the greatest. But it is by no means the only producer of outstanding Chardonnay, which seems to acquire an extra dimension unique to the Margaret River. It is more concentrated, more complex, more viscous, more tangy, yet does not cloy nor become heavy. The voluptuous fruit lends itself to the full range of winemaking techniques, and the region's winemakers do not shrink from using them.
Semillon (and even Chenin Blanc) acquires a pleasantly herbal/grassy cut which imperceptibly shades into Sauvignon Blanc. Intensity and elegance likewise coalesce in wines which are seldom less than distinguished.

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Pemberton/Warren.

For all the hesitation about Pinot Noir, it has made the greatest impression so far among the red wines. The Cabernets and Cabernet blends are very pleasant wines, with soft berry and leaf aromas and flavours, but one suspects that work remains to be done in restraining vigour (and yield) if wines are to be made which seriously challenge either Mount Barker or Margaret River.
Not only is this by far the most widely planted variety, but clearly the most successful across the entire region in terms of style and quality. Chardonnay is a forgiving and flexible variety, and does not object to being grown in what might be termed easy or soft conditions. At its best, it produces opulently flavoured and structured wines, with an almost creamy texture and which respond well to the generous use of high quality French oak. At the other extreme, the wine is pleasant but fractionally dilute, lacking the impact of the best Chardonnays from Mount Barker or the Margaret River.

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Perth Hills.

The Cabernet Sauvignon is frequently blended, sometimes released as straightforward varietal wines, and produced by the majority of the wineries in the region. Full flavoured, with chocolaty/earthy/berry flavours, the wines are reliable and pleasant.
The ubiquitous chardonnay does not disappoint: the best white wines to have come from the Perth Hills have been made from this variety. One would expect the style to be generous, and it usually is, but some quite tight, minerally wines are also produced.

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South West Coastal.

The Cabernets tend to be rather fine and delicate with soft tannins and cherry/red fruit flavours. Some Cabernets produced further to the south can be quite robust.
The Shiraz follows the pattern set by Cabernet Sauvignon tending to the soft elegant styles with a core of cherry and mint fruit.
Chardonnay is quite diverse throughout the region attesting once again to the versatility and flexibility of the variety. Wines vary from intense, strong grapefruit flavours to peach/melon to rich and buttery.

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Swan Valley.

Chenin Blanc dominates plantings in the Swan Valley, contributing roughly 25 per cent of the annual crush. Arguably, the Swan Valley is the one region in Australia in which this grape (and the wine it makes) rises above mediocrity. In this climate it produces a wine with a certain luscious richness, which responds well to bottle age, producing an almost voluptuous White Burgundy style. It also does particularly well in the Moondah Brook/Gingin subregions, producing wines with an abundance of the fruit salad flavours which are the varietal signature of the grape.
Plantings of Chardonnay are increasing, but Westfield in particular has produced some very good, buttery/peachy wines from it, sometimes with an almost Burgundian tang which comes from a measure of barrel ferment.


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South Australia.



Adelaide Hills.

After a slow and at times uncertain start, Pinot Noir is now asserting itself in the fashion that the climate has long suggested it should. The arrival of new Burgundian clones should ensure continued impetus and interest. Indeed, there is no doubt that the Adelaide Hills is and will remain South Australia's leading producer of Pinot Noir, capable of throwing down the gauntlet to southern Victoria and Tasmania.
Although not widely grown, several producers have managed to make outstanding wines from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, none more so than Henschke at Lenswood, and - in different style - Chain of Ponds and Glenara in the north western corner of the Adelaide Hills. If nothing else, it is a testament to the importance of site selection.
Complex but elegant Chardonnays are par for the course; the variety flourishes, and the resulting wines are invariably full of character, responding in marked fashion to the winemaking philosophies and practices of the numerous distinguished producers in the region. As one would expect, natural levels of acidity are good, allowing makers to use malolactic fermentation to increase complexity without making the wines soft and flabby, nor threatening their longevity.
Riesling is grown in both cooler and warmer sites within the Adelaide Hills, producing razor sharp, fine and delicate wines in the cooler parts and richer, more conventional wine on the warmer sites. For early consumption, the latter wines may well be favoured; for those prepared to wait 5-10 years, the cool sites provide the answer.

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Adelaide Plains.

Shiraz ranks equally with Chardonnay in terms of production, and in the hands of Primo Estate produces a wine of remarkable quality, showing a totally unexpected touch of spice (normally reserved for cooler climates) and fine-grained tannins. Winemaking skills have no doubt played a part, but it demonstrates what can be achieved with grapes grown on mature vines and with controlled yields.

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Barossa Valley.

Shiraz is given pride of place because the Barossa Valley is the birthplace of Penfolds Grange, the greatest red wine made from this variety outside of the confines of the northern Rhone Valley. Almost every Barossa Valley winery has a Shiraz or Shiraz blend somewhere on the books; the style is full blooded - dark in colour, rich in dark red fruits with a touch of chocolate, a hint of roasted character, and sometimes eucalypt/mint. The structure is round and velvety, and the wines are almost invariably extremely long lived.
Cabernet Sauvignon follows a similar track to Shiraz. Wonderfully strong and rich in flavour and colour, it does manage to cling to its varietal character, but it is often best blended with grapes from other regions such as the Eden Valley, McLaren Vale or Coonawarra. The illustrious Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon is now a wholehearted marriage between the Barossa Valley and Coonawarra.
Just as almost every Barossa Valley winery has a Shiraz, so does it have a Riesling. Increasingly these are sourced wholly or partially outside the valley (usually from the adjacent East Barossa Ranges), although that is not always apparent from the labels. The style is quintessentially Australian: strong, passionfruit/tropical fruits/lime flavours which can build magnificently with prolonged bottle age, although only a tiny percentage is given the opportunity.
Semillon has had a distinct renaissance, frequently being given a seductive toasting of American oak, and developing quickly into a robust, full bodied wine.
Like Semillon, tends to produce a relatively full bodied, relatively quick maturing style when produced from grapes grown on the Barossa Valley floor or the lower foothills.

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Clare Valley.

Much of Australia's finest Riesling is grown in the Clare Valley, and it is the most important wine for the region. Typically it starts life in a fairly austere mode, with faint aromas of passionfruit, a touch of lime, and a steely strength. Almost immediately a telltale touch of lightly browned toast starts to emerge, and as the wine ages and becomes more complex the intensity of that toasty character grows. These are long lived wines: only in the weakest years will they not benefit from 5 years in bottle, many of the better wines improving for up to 10 years.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the other great wine of the region. Here the character and the style is less homogenous, in part reflecting the philosophy of the winemaker and in part the imperatives of the vineyard terroir. The wines are seldom less than full bodied, at times as strikingly dense, rich and concentrated as any wine to be found in Australia.
There are those who think that Clare Shiraz is every bit as good as Cabernet Sauvignon, and over the years the two have frequently been blended, sometimes with the addition of a little Malbec. The wines are deep in colour and flavour, rounder and softer than the Cabernet Sauvignon, but with similar strength and depth.

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Coonawarra.

Whatever yardstick one adopts, Coonawarra produces most of Australia's great Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit flavours are very concentrated and luscious, covering a broad spectrum of individual fruit flavours ranging from blackcurrant to plum to red cherry to prunes. Notwithstanding the impact of oak tannins, the wines are seldom astringent or tannic, and indeed Coonawarra winemakers invest much effort in extracting every last grain of available tannin.
To all intents and purposes, Shiraz was the only wine grape grown in Coonawarra between 1900 and 1950; there were a few vines of Cabernet Sauvignon and a little Grenache. The grape that in effect created Coonawarra's reputation seemed to be taking a slow ride to obscurity in the face of the success of Cabernet Sauvignon until Wynns Coonawarra Estate turned the tide. The advent of the de luxe Michael Hermitage (Shiraz) alongside John Riddoch (Cabernet Sauvignon) has simply served to underline the inherent quality of the wine.
The quality of Riesling in Coonawarra has never been seriously in dispute: however it has been so completely overshadowed by the reputation of the red wines, and increasingly by Chardonnay, that only two producers (Wynns and Hollick) have consistently made and released a Riesling in any quantity. Lindemans has now returned to the fold, and the fragrant, flowery and appealingly fruity style (so different to that of the Clare Valley) is slowly but surely gaining the recognition it deserves.

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Eden Valley.

Riesling has traditionally been the most important white grape (and wine) of the region, initially developing fragrant strong lime juice aromas and with great intensity of flavour on the palate ultimately allied with touches of marmalade on toast as the wines age. Good Eden Valley Riesling will take 10 years or more to reach its peak.
Shiraz ranks with Riesling as the most important (and most highly regarded) wine of the region. Contrary to what one might expect, the wines rarely show the spicy/peppery characters of cool climate Shiraz from other parts of southern Australia (notably Victoria); rather, they tend to more luscious plums and black berry fruit characters, sometimes associated with touches of liquorice and more gamey/foresty characters. Structurally, the wines are very smooth, with ripe tannins well balanced and integrated, guaranteeing a long life.

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Eyre Peninsula.

Merlot is sometimes made as a straight varietal, sometimes blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. If there is to be significant expansion of plantings in the region, Merlot should be one of the front runners. Not only is it in demand overall, but it appears particularly well suited to the climate (and soil) of the Peninsula, producing wine of bell clear varietal character. The flavours run through a spectrum of leaf, mint and red berry, the bouquet appropriately fragrant.
The late ripening variety of Cabernet Sauvignon provides positive proof of the temperate climate, which may indeed be even cooler than the statistics suggest - or at least is so in some vintages. In the warmer years it produces a wine with a most attractive mix of gently herbaceous/tobacco characters with sweeter red and blackberry flavours; the tannins are fine and supple, and the wine is of medium body. In the cooler vintages, herbaceous characters are more evident, though not unpleasantly so.
Riesling is made in both dry and semi dry style, the latter no doubt reflecting the importance of the general tourist cellar door trade upon which the wineries rely. As is the case in virtually all Australian regions in which it and the Cabernet family dominate, it performs well, providing a crisp, tasty wine in its dry version but also lending itself to being made in a sweeter style.

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Langhorne Creek.

While less than 10% of the wine currently made from grapes grown in Langhorne Creek is sold as a single-region wine, the style is relatively easy to define. On the one hand there are the wines made by the 4 small wineries in the region, and on the other hand there are the blended wines from the major companies in which the Langhorne Creek component makes an obvious contribution. Langhorne Creek was the anvil upon which Wolf Blass made much of his reputation in the 1970s and '80s, producing immediately accessible, soft and fragrant Cabernet blends which melted into the American oak barrels in which the wines were matured. The flavours are in the red berry spectrum, often with some gentle minty and chocolate overtones, seldom herbaceous or tannic. As with the Clare Valley, Malbec adds a particular dimension when added to the blend, providing an almost riotously juicy wine, with more cassis evident.
Shiraz is often released as a single varietal, but also blended with all or any of Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot or Malbec, again producing strikingly fruity wines with flavours and aromas of cherry and mint, finishing with that hallmark regional softness yet a hint of spice.

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McLaren Vale.

Arguably, the cooler sites in McLaren Vale are Australia's best area for Sauvignon Blanc; while vintage variation does play a role, in most years the wines have excellent varietal character (tending to gooseberry/tropical rather than more weedy/grassy flavours) without becoming coarse or heavy. Semillon is often incorporated as a blend component to very good effect.
Chardonnay, not surprisingly, has established a stranglehold on white grape plantings in the region since its introduction a little over 15 years ago. The style varies according to site, maker input and vintage conditions, ranging from elegant, citrus-tinged wines through to richer, fleshier, peachy/buttery versions.
As in so many of the premium wine growing districts of Australia, Shiraz was the backbone of the industry for much of this century. It produces a densely coloured, richly flavoured wine which quickly develops a velvety texture.
Cabernet Sauvignon wines are full bodied, and rich often with a touch of dark chocolate intermixed with blackcurrant, but they avoid overripe, jammy characteristics. The tannins are plentiful but soft, and the wines have the structure for long aging. As with Shiraz, significant amounts of wine produced in the region are blended with less rich wines from other parts of South Australia to provide body and structure in large volume commercial blends.
Cabernet Sauvignons are typically of medium body with intense blackcurrant varietal character attesting to the cool climate; when Cabernet Franc is added, these characters become even more pronounced.
Chardonnay is produced both for sparlking and table wine, and - not suprisingly - is particularly wel suited to the former. In table wine it has citrus and melon flavours and is of medium body and intensity. Some late harvest Chardonnay is also produced.

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Murray Valley.

While there are many young vineyards in the Murray Valley there are also significant areas with wines over eighty years old. Many of these consist of Grenache and Mourvedre which were until recently seen as workhorse varieties for use in cask reds and fortifieds. Fruit from these old vines, often in combination with Shiraz, is now being used to produce medium bodied spicy red wines which exemplify the sunny, fruit-driven Australian style.
Chardonnays are characterised by rich gold colour and full ripe fruit flavours of peach and melon. Careful use of oaks adds an extra dimension to the wine without detracting from the fruit flavours. The current trend towards unwooded Chardonnay is also well suited to the ripe flavours of the Murray Valley.
The secret with Shiraz in the Murray Valley is in restricting the yield to achieve the necessary ripeness and balance. The increasing interest in Australian Shiraz on the world market has encouraged growers and winemakers to focus attention on this variety. At its best, Murray Valley Shiraz is warm and generous with soft and rounded flavours and a gentle tannin finish. They are not necessarily made for long-term cellaring but to be enjoyed while fresh and lively.

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Padathaway.

Chardonnay is the most successful of all of the table wines of this region. There is a particular character to the fruit flavour which is evident in the majority of the vintages, and which (without the intervention of oak) is strongly reminiscent of grapefruit, although the flavours also extend to more conventional melon, fig and white peach. An additional attribute is the ability to age gracefully in bottle, witnessed by the success of mature Padthaway Chardonnays at the National Wine Show of Australia. Lindemans, Hardys and Orlando have all from time to time produced Chardonnays of outstanding merit and character from Padthaway.
Cabernet Sauvignon is released either as a single varietal, or blended with Merlot, the wine is typically of medium body, fragrant and with cool (rather than warm) climate characters to the fore. The tannins are fine and soft, and the wine does not need (nor is it usually given) significant oak influence. The wines enter the plateau of drinkability quite quickly, but are capable of lingering on that plateau for many years. As with much of the wine from Padthaway, it is often blended with wines from other regions.
Shiraz, like Cabernet, is frequently blended with wines from other South Australian regions, but from time to time appears either as a single region varietal, or as a significant component. Orlando and Hardys have both produced excellent wines using this formula. Yields has to be controlled if Shiraz is to give of its best in the region.


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Queensland.



Granite Belt.

Shiraz s the one consistently distinctive wine style of the region: dark in colour; strong in body, flavour and tannins; and above all else, redolent with spice when young, but developing soft, sweet velvety fruit with time in bottle, reminiscent of Shiraz of the Hunter Valley.
Like Shiraz, the Cabernet Sauvignon is full, dark and rich in flavour - at times perhaps rather too much so, but arguably too much is better than too little. Cassis/red berry/sweet fruit flavours predominate, attesting to the warm climate, and the often warm vanillin oak.
Echoes of the Hunter Valley also appear in the Semillons of the region, wines which grow gracefully in bottle for 5 years or more. Early in its life, Semillon can exhibit striking tropical fruit characters (possibly botrytis influenced) but with age, classic honeyed/toasty characters emerge.



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New South Wales.



Canberra District.

Cabernet Sauvignon is sometimes made as a single varietal wine, but increasingly blended with Merlot; as with all the wines of the region, the varied climatic conditions which prevail from one vintage to the next (and differing approaches in the winery) make generalisations about style more than usually hazardous. Overall, the weight and extract varies from light, leafy and minty to rich, concentrated and chocolaty.
Shiraz is a variety which is starting to come into its own as part of the general resurgence of interest, with several wineries producing spectacularly good examples, redolent of spice, black cherry and liquorice. It would not surprise to see plantings of the variety increase significantly over the years.
Riesling, for many of the wineries, vies with Chardonnay as the most important white wine, and arguably has more personality and typicity. The majority are made in a crisp, gently toasty, dry style, with sweeter styles less favoured than they once were. Botrytis is not a significant factor; in the warmer years, more tropical characters do appear, however. Modest yields ensure that the wines age well in bottle for up to a decade.

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Cowra.

Chardonnay is by far the most important wine of the region, invariably generously flavoured and, in most instances, relatively quick maturing. However, certain wines from the late '70's and from 1981 (in particular) demonstrate a largely unrecognised capacity to develop into ultra-rich, golden, honey and buttered toast styles. In younger wines, yellow peach and ripe fig flavours tend to dominate; by the nature of things, a degree of American oak influence is commonplace.

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Hastings River.

The intense purple colour of Chambourcin immediately signals its genetic ancestry to the trained eye, and gives the wine a second use as a blend component where colour is thought to be needed by the winemaker. The flavour of Chambourcin is pronounced, falling in the black cherry/plum range in its youth, sometimes with a slight spicy/gamey overlay. But as a young, fresh wine it is among the best examples of hybrids produced anywhere in the world.
Substantial plantings of Pinot Noir are a testament to the belief of John Cassegrain that in some ways there are parallels to the climate of Burgundy. Both the statistics and the quantity and style of Hastings Valley Pinot Noir point firmly in the opposite direction; suffice is to say Pinot Noir produces a light coloured, quick developing, earthy style and has in fact frequently been blended with Chambourcin and other varieties to produce a varietally indistinct but pleasant dry red table wine.
Cabenet Sauvignon vintages such as 1991 (and to a lesser extent 1993) show what can be achieved with these varieties (and also shiraz). Soft, quite fleshy, wines with abundant berry and earth flavours are the result; Merlot, too, can be successfully made as a single varietal though sometimes as a cross-regional blend.
The ubiquitous Chardonnay dominates plantings here in the same fashion as it does in all newly established grape growing regions of Australia. Chardonnay does well here. The style is not unlike a pumped-up version of that of the Hunter Valley, rich, generous and fruitily sweet in a peach/tropical fruit spectrum. It lends itself to manipulation in the winery, and to the expansive use of oak. As one might expect, it matures relatively quickly, but the wines from better (drier) vintages can hold their peak for several years.
The thin skins and large berries of semillon make it especially vulnerable to the effects of vintage rain. The saving grace (as in the Hunter Valley) is semillon's unusual ability to produce excellent wine at lower than usual sugar (and hence alcohol) levels of around 10% baume. Thus early picking is the response, and the wines show many of the characters of and develop in much the same way as those of the Hunter Valley. As with Chardonnay, weight and intensity can be diluted in high yielding years.

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Lower Hunter.

Shiraz is to Cabernet Sauvignon what Semillon is to Chardonnay. The Hunter Valley imposes its regional stamp on both wines, and it is arguable the inherent varietal character of Shiraz bends more compliantly than does Cabernet Sauvignon to that stamp. Given that France's Rhone Valley is very much warmer than is Bordeaux (home of Cabernet), that is as it should be. Moreover, Shiraz makes the same transformation in bottle as Semillon, moving from an astringent, angular and spiky youth into a velvety, almost luminous maturity at 20 or even 30 years of age.
When the dust settles down, Semillon will be regarded as the great wine of the Lower Hunter. It demands time in bottle, growing from a vaguely grassy youth to a crescendo of honeyed, nutty, buttery/toasty mouthfilling richness at 10 to 20 years of age.
Chardonnay started its Australia-wide reign of terror, ecstasy or whatever, when Murray Tyrrell produced the 1971 Vat 47 Pinot Chardonnay. Virtually every winery today produces a Chardonnay, some are richer or more complex, more oaky than others, but all with a peaches and cream cast to their makeup. Opinions differ sharply about the keeping qualities of these wines: if varietal character is unimportant to you, then the deep golden, buttery, viscous opulence of aged Hunter Chardonnay will be extremely satisfying.

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Mudgee.

Cabernet Sauvignon makes Mudgee's best wines, usually as a 100 per cent varietal, but sometimes blended with Merlot or Shiraz. The wines have tremendous depth of colour, and hold their purple-red hues for longer than those of the Hunter, turning brick-red at 7 to 10 years of age. The generous flavours reflect the warm climate: a melange of tastes of red berry, dark chocolate and (sometimes) eucalypt/peppermint; the tannins are almost invariably pronounced, but are not excessively astringent and are balanced by fruit generosity.
The Shiraz can be somewhat schizophrenic; some are determined to out-hunter the Hunter, with strong earthy/tarry/leather characters. Other wines are much cleaner and closer to Cabernet Sauvignon, with lush red berry fruits and hints of chocolate. It is frequently blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, sometimes with Cabernet and Malbec - almost always to very good effect.
Chardonnay is by far the best-performing white wine from the region, consistently producing good, sometimes excellent, wine. The flavours are usually in the peach/melon/fig spectrum, but often citric/grapefruit characters emerge, particularly where the maker employs barrel-ferment techniques. The wines show their best varietal character in the second and third years, but do go on to develop into rich, regional honeyed White Burgundy styles over a much longer time frame.

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Orange.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are usually blended, but sometimes produced as single varietal wines, these leave no doubt that this the Orange region has a temperate climate. The flavours run through the sappy/briary/herbaceous/earthy spectrum (though with some dark berry sweetness, of course); are of medium weight and body; and have fine tannins, all in all quite European in their structure. They can be very effectively blended with wines from warmer regions such as Mudgee, the Hunter Valley and Cowra.
The Chardonnay is, again, by far the most important wine. The style is a neat balance between the fleshy, rich, quick developing warm climate wine and the ultra fine, slow developing, citrus and cashew style of very cool climates. Melon, fig and nectarine flavours are set in a wine of medium weight and pleasantly firm acidity, responding well to but not relying on the subtle use of oak and malolactic fermentation. Although there is not a long history, it is reasonable to suppose the wines will respond well to medium term cellaring.
Intense tropical fruit flavours develop in Sauvignon Blanc when grown at high elevation (above 750m). The more vigourous soils also produce fruit with herbaceous character that complements the strong fruit flavours.

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Riverina/Griffith.

Picked at normal maturity, Semillon provides a pleasant wine (which may be blended with other varieties) and is used in the making of generic styles. When left on the vine for a full two months after maturity (and if the weather conditions are favourable) Botrytis Cinerea, a 'noble rot', may attack the grapes, concentrating both sugar and acid, and producing the luscious Sauternes-style dessert wine which is the district's outstanding specialty. The Riverina produces more than half of Australia's Semillon.
Much good Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon is produced in the region. With the growing importance of exports, considerable research is being done on irrigation, nutrition and canopy management to improve fruit quality. The Riverina produces 20% of Australia's Shiraz.

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Upper Hunter.

Semillon is typically fleshy, soft and more likely to be oak-influenced than the Semillons of the Lower Hunter Valley, although in recent times there has been a distinct move towards (traditional) unwooded Semillon styles. Whether or not oak is used, the wines develop more quickly than those of the Lower Hunter; they tend to peak at 2 to 4 years of age, with soft, buttery fruit.
As with Semillon, Chardonnays develop relatively quickly, reaching full maturity at around 3 years; full bodied, soft and with honey/peach/butter flavours. Semillon Chardonnay blends are quite common, but Chardonnay has to be regarded as the outstanding wine of the region, with all makers producing wines of real merit. Rosemount Roxburgh is on one view Australia's greatest example of the style, incredibly rich and complex, toasty, textured and creamy, with a strong charred oak overlay.


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Victoria.



Bendigo.

This is red wine country first and foremost, and it is inevitable that most attention focuses on Cabernet Sauvignon. There is a character which runs right across Central Victoria (from Great Western to the Pyrenees and onwards, in slightly diminishing strength, to the Goulburn Valley) which was first noted 100 years ago: Francois de Castella recorded that the red wines of the Bendigo region were noted for a 'faint curious character, resembling sandalwood', and that this even persisted in brandy distilled from the wine.In modern winespeak, we use the term mint (meaning mint in the eucalypt-to-peppermint spectrum, as opposed to garden mint) to describe this character. Its intensity varies from vintage to vintage, and from wine to wine, but it is seldom entirely absent. The wines have great depth of colour, a rich texture with abundant tannins, and fruit flavours ranging from faintly tobacco/herbaceous (in the coolest years), through to the far more common blackberry/blackcurrant flavours. They are long lived wines with excellent cellaring prospects.
Shiraz is the other great red wine of the region. Indeed, in the Heathcote subregion and at nearby Great Western, many think it reaches its greatest expression, and for that reason. The colour is deep, and the wine almost voluptuous in the way the flavour and texture fill the mouth. Pepper/spice may accompany mint, but frequently replaces it, with red berry and sometimes cherry fruit to support these more exotic flavours. It is every bit as long-lived as Cabernet Sauvignon.

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South West Victoria.

The vintage conditions have to be favourable, but when they are cabernet (either alone or blended with Merlot and/or Cabernet Franc) produces a wine with striking similarities to a Classed Growth Bordeaux (from the Haut Medoc), sometimes redolent of cassis, sometimes tending more to cedar and cigar box. One or two varietal Merlots (produced in minuscule quantities) have also been very exciting. All the wines in this family age particularly well.
Riesling is arguably the best suited grape for the making of table wine (although there have been a handful of extraordinary Gewurztraminers made by Seppelt) and made by all the wineries in the region. Fine, intense, gently lime, accented wines gradually assume more toasty characters as they develop in bottle over a decade or more, but do not lose their hallmark elegance. If the volume (or the number of wineries) was greater, this region would likely rank with Australia's best. The occasional Botrytis Riesling simply adds lustre to the overall performance of Riesling here; once again elegance and intensity combine to produce a wine of exceptional quality.

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Geelong.

The producers of Pinot Noir in the region carry disproportionate weight, in no small measure because of the clarity of varietal expression and the sheer quality of the wine made from this most capricious variety. The style of the wine produced by the makers is (predictably) very different, reflecting differing winemaking techniques and philosophies, but with a common varietal base: one does not need flights of fancy to find plums, tobacco, violets, strawberries and truffles appearing (not necessarily at the one time) in the wines. Pinot Noir was a famous wine for the region in the last century, and it is again today.
If there is a unifying feature in all of the Geelong wines it is their strength and depth of colour, bouquet and flavour. Almost all the wineries produce striking Shiraz which sometimes shows pepper/spice overtones, but more often than not relies on potent dark cherry fruit with persistent but balanced tannins providing structure and longevity.
The area is capable of producing concentrated, powerful and long lived Cabernets, with intense blackcurrant/cassis characters at their best, and more sappy/herbaceous characters in the cooler, wetter years at same sites. In all sites, limited yields are of prime importance in shaping the style and intensity of the wine.
If the area under vine in the Geelong region is to substantially increase, no doubt Chardonnay will be one of the major contributors to growth. It has shown it can produce a wine of exceptional strength and complexity, developing pronounced Burgundian overtones with age, but can also be made in a more simple and easily accessible form on the Bellarine Peninsula. As with Pinot Noir, some of the newer plantings are being used to produce sparkling wine base, a use which is likely to continue in the future.

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Gippsland.

Pinot Noir disputes pride of place with Chardonnay; the style varies somewhat throughout the subregions, tending richer and somehow slightly more rustic in East and West Gippsland, but in the (coolest) South Gippsland sub-region capable of making what many regard as one of Australia's greatest Pinot Noir styles, and certainly its most Burgundian - fine and elegant, but with a deceptive length and intensity, and an elusive amalgam of strawberry, plum, tobacco and forest floor aromas and flavours.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are usually blended in a Bordeaux style red. The cool climate both makes the logic of the blend obvious, and means that in style the wines do indeed have overtones of Bordeaux. Overall, they are on the light to medium bodied side (in contrast to the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs) with nuances of mint, leaf and earth to the more conventional dark berry fruits. The tannins are generally fine, occasionally firm.
Chardonnay is successfully made in all subregions, albeit with the greatest success in East Gippsland, where low yields produce wines of wholly exceptional flavour, structure and overall impact. Typically deeply coloured, and with layer upon layer of fruit flavour, augmented by generous use of French oak by the best makers, these wines stand out in the seemingly endless sea of Australian chardonnay. If there is a question mark, it is over their sheer opulence.

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Goulburn Valley.

Shiraz was the principal grape grown in the Goulburn Valley for over a century, anchored at Chateau Tahbilk. Then and now it is capable of producing a red wine of awesome flavour and longevity which is amenable to oak influence. The wines present with ripe rich fruit when young and with age reveal flavours of dark fruits, a hint of pepper, dark chocolate and soft, supple leather and earth flavours. Some Shiraz is grown in the Ranges, but it is Shiraz which is dominating the recent plantings on the central valley floor - and not Cabernet Sauvignon.
Throughout the 1970's 1980's and early 1990's it seemed that the march of Cabernet Sauvignon would never stop. Virtually all wineries, large and small, produce a Cabernet, and the style is inevitably diverse, changing from warm, earthy chocolate-accented flavours around Seymour to firmer, finer cassis/redcurrant fruit in the Strathbogie Ranges.
The Goulburn Valley boasts the oldest and largest plantings of Marsanne in the world. For both Mitchelton and Chateau Tahbilk, the variety is very important: in many ways it is the flagbearer for each, even though each makes greater quantities of other wines. Yet the style of the two wines could not be more different: that of Mitchelton is heavily oak influenced, lemon-accented and gains a pungent, almost oily, richness with age. Oak plays no part at all in the Tahbilk wine: it is delicate and faintly chalky in its youth, but in the best years is extremely long-lived, building the honeysuckle bouquet and taste which typifies the variety.
Chardonnay is of rapidly increasing importance, for it flourishes both in the valley and in the Strathbogie Ranges. In the valley, it is capable of producing good yields at high sugar levels, and a peachy/buttery richness attesting to the climate. In the Strathbogie Ranges, it transforms itself, with tangy grapefruit and melon flavours as a table wine, and producing a fine base for sparkling wine. As one would expect, instead of being fast developing, here it is slow maturing.
For reasons which are not readily apparent from the climatic data, the Central Goulburn region produces excellent Riesling, arguably Victoria's best, and challenged mainly by the newer generation wines from the Strathbogie Ranges. The valley floor wines have considerable weight and flavour, with marked lime juice and tropical fruit aromas and flavours intermingling. Despite their early appeal, the wines also have the capacity to age attractively for up to 10 years, holding their peak for some further years thereafter. The wines from the Ranges are finer, but still have pronounced tropical lime fruit.

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Grampians.

The Shiraz s the district's finest wine. The impact of mesoclimate is greater than one might expect, for the style ranges from silky smooth, almost understated, red cherry and plum through to strikingly concentrated wines strongly reminiscent of the Rhone Valley, redolent with spice, pepper, liquorice and game. Yet however diverse the fruit flavours may be, there is a common thread in the elegance and fine tannins, no doubt deriving from the cool conditions under which the grapes ripen. Yet another unifying force has been the willingness of the winemakers of the region to let the fruit character express itself, without smothering it in American oak.
Over the years, sparingly grown and often blended with Shiraz (and other varieties), Cabernet Sauvignon performs well in adverse conditions and wonderfully when everything goes right. Then blackcurrant, blackberry and even raspberry flavours run riot without threatening that elegant, regional style.
Sparingly grown, the region's Riesling is high quality wine. The style shows tropical/lime juice aroma and flavour in the warmer years, and reserved, toasty wines in the cooler vintages.
As with Riesling, Chardonnay is sparingly gown and made, a situation which pays tribute to the quality of the Shiraz (and the Cabernet Sauvignon) rather than reflecting any shortcoming in the quality of the Chardonnay. That which is made and released is moderately intense, with a mix of citrus, white peach and cashew nut flavours.

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King Valley.

Cabernet Sauvignon, the most widely planted variety in the King Valley, has its strongest foothold, as one would expect, in the low to intermediate elevations. It ripens readily, producing the typically large yields of the region. Resultant wines are soft but flavoursome, making excellent blend components for commercial Cabernet Sauvignon designed for early consumption. The flavours are in the sweet berry spectrum, with just a hint of mintiness and more herbaceous notes. The substantial quantities of Merlot fulfil a similar role; by the nature of the variety, it is, if anything, even softer than the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chardonnay has now overtaken Riesling as the major white grape of the region producing both table and sparkling wine. In both guises much is blended by the numerous extra-valley purchasers; by far the greatest amount of Chardonnay bearing the King Valley Geographic Indication is produced by Brown Brothers, with Miranda being the next most important producer specifically recognising the origin. The wine is soft and rich, with yellow peach, fig and tropical fruit flavours, and tends to be relatively quick developing.

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Macedon Ranges.

With one exception, all of the most recent plantings in the Macedon Ranges have been of chardonnay and pinot noir (which have doubled in the past few years). The exception is shiraz, which is a favoured variety both in the northern parts of the Macedon Ranges and at Sunbury. Given that it is a relatively late ripening variety generally found (and often considered to do best in) warm to hot regions, this may come as a surprise, but Virgin Hills, Knight granite Hills and Craiglee (the latter in Sunbury) were the first three Australian wineries now joined by Cobaw Ridge to introduce consumers to the striking pepper, spice, liquorice and black cherry aromas and flavours of genuinely cool climate shiraz. At times eerily similar to the wines of the Northern Rhone Valley of France, this style has added a third dimension to Shiraz in Australia.
Pinot Noir is used both to produce sparkling and table wines, arguably with equal success. Here the logic of the match of climate and wine style is immediately obvious, with both old and new arrivals producing wines of unimpeachable varietal character. Fine and tending to lighter bodied in style in the cooler vintages, these are wines of genuine merit in the overall scheme of Australian wines.

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Mornington Peninsula.

There is enormous range and depth and style of the region's Pinot Noirs, ranging from hauntingly delicate to intense and lingering. The constant factor is the bell-clear varietal character; as the majority are at the lighter end of the spectrum, that varietal clarity is all the more pronounced. Such wines are best enjoyed within two or three years of vintage and are a fine advertisement for the variety.
Almost all the Cabernets are in fact blended with up to 20 per cent Merlot and Cabernet Franc, a practice which accentuates the natural tendency to suppleness and elegance: these are the equivalent of the right bank of the Gironde in Bordeaux (St Emilion and Pomerol) compared to the left bank (Haut Medoc and Graves) of - say - Coonawarra (South Australia). The flavours can be intense if not downright piercing, running the full gamut of red into black berries, but the wines are never heavy and certainly not tannic.
Chardonnay is the Mornington Peninsula's most distinctive wine, which - if made in the style favoured by most producers - is distinctively different to any other Chardonnay produced in Australia. The background fruit flavour is quite delicate, with flavours in the melon/citrus/fig spectrum, and is very sensitive to the influence of winemaking technique, and in particular to the effect of malolactic fermentation. Partly through necessity (natural acid levels are frequently quite high) and partly (it would seem) through peer group pressures, the majority of the wines are in fact wholly or partially taken through the secondary malolactic fermentation, and are equally frequently barrel fermented. The net result is to overlay a strong nutty/cashew/hessiany oak character. If the sufficient underlying fruit is there, and it often is, the result is spectacularly good - and equally distinctive.

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North East Victoria.

Muscat, from the brown clone (or type) of Muscat a Petits Grains, more commonly known as Brown Muscat or Brown Frontignac, this is North East Victoria's most famous fortified wine and conventionally regarded as its greatest. Virtually unique in the world (Cyprus, South Africa and Spain are, or have been, competitors), this distilled essence of liquid raisins can achieve undreamt of layers of complexity as it ages (and gently oxidises) in cask. Once imprisoned in a bottle, its only future is to be drunk, for its changes will cease. Explosively rich and sweet though the great Muscats are, the finish is cleansing and brisk; if not dry in the technical sense, the finish does not cloy nor seem as sweet as the plum pudding flavours of the mid palate suggest it will be. A great winter aperitif, and an after dinner wine at any time of the year.
Tokay wine is unique; nowhere else in the world is an aged, fortified wine produced as this is from the Muscadelle grape, the junior partner with Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc in making the sweet botrytised table wines of Sauternes. Here in the North East of Victoria, it has an intense varietal aroma and flavour akin to a mixture of cold tea and fish oil (the latter in the nicest possible sense). Toffee and butterscotch are also commonly used descriptors for a wine which has more feline grace than the all-powerful Muscat, and is preferred by some winemakers and wine judges simply because it has that grace. Young Tokays are a sheer delight, and can be enjoyed anywhere, any time, however much convention anchors them around the very start or finish of a meal.

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Pyrenees.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely propagated variety, which produces a wine which is never less than substantial and is at times of awesome proportions. Some of the wines are more tannic than others, but all possess a sumptuously rich mid palate, with flavours running from eucalypt mint through to blackcurrant, and earthy characters which develop during maturation.
Once again Shiraz demonstrates just how suited it is to the climate and terroir of Western Victoria. As with Cabernet, gloriously sweet and rich fruit flavours are to be found in abundance, sometimes circumscribed by tannins needing to soften, but sometimes not. Pepper and spice occasionally appear, but more frequently red cherry, black cherry and dark chocolate are the descriptors of choice.

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Yarra Valley.

Pinot Noir takes pride of place simply because the Yarra Valley has achieved more with this difficult variety than any other Australian wine region. Slowly, too, the essential nature of Pinot Noir is becoming better understood; while many wine drinkers dismiss it because it is so different to that of Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz, others appreciate its haunting delicacy and surprising length of flavour. For those who understand true Burgundy (typically Domaine-bottled) the sappy/strawberry plum spectrum of fruit flavours to be found in the Yarra is very exciting.
As in the Mornington Peninsula, Cabernet Sauvignon is usually blended with up to 20 per cent (sometimes more) of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The wines are invariably elegant, but can vary from light bodied through to full bodied. The common feature is the softness of the tannins - they are almost silky. This can trap the unwary into assuming the wines will not cellar well, but they do.
Shiraz is sparingly produced, but after a period of decline, once again on the increase. Appropriate site selection is essential, with warm, north-facing slopes highly desirable, and in that circumstance capable of producing intensely coloured and flavoured wines, redolent with black cherry spice and pepper, but with those fine, silky Yarra Valley tannins.
Curious though it may seem, the quality of Yarra Valley Chardonnay took longer to assert itself than did that of its Pinot Noir. However, over the past ten years both the quality and range of style has increased dramatically; while there is a distinctive regional melon/fig/white peach flavour substrate to all Yarra Valley Chardonnays, there is tremendous diversity in weight, texture and richness, partly reflecting vintage variation and partly reflecting different winemaking philosophies and techniques. What is undoubted is the capacity of the Yarra Valley to produce long lived Chardonnay of the highest quality.


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Tasmania.



Northern Tasmania.

Pinot Noir is a variety which is theoretically perfectly suited and which regularly produces soft, luscious and strongly perfumed wines. Pipers River is not a consistent dry red style Pinot region but in some years it really can produce the goods spectacularly. As is increasingly obvious all around the world, especially in Burgundy (France), it appears that you cannot have both when talking Pinot Noir. The Tamar Valley on the other hand, tends to produce wines with less perfume and more backbone regularly of outstanding varietal quality and style.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot flourish in the Tamar Valley, producing wines of at times unexpectedly dense and ripe aromas and flavours, and with considerable extract and very fine tannins. Most Pipers River producers source their Cabernet Sauvignon from the Tamar Valley.
Pipers River consistently produces some of this country's finest Riesling which generally repay cellaring for a decade or more with its intensity and character unfolding as the years go by.

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Southern Tasmania.

Pinot Noir is the most predominant variety of the South outnumbering Chardonnay two to one. It is by far the most important red variety in all subregions except the Coal River where Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot shine. Some of Australia's most spectacularly rich, ripe and full Pinot Noirs have come from the East Coast and the Huon Valley, deeply coloured, with strong spiced plum aromas and flavours, and with an above average capacity to develop in bottle.
The Coal River and the East Coast are Southern Tasmania's answer to the Tamar Valley; each region produces solidly structured Cabernets and Merlots which, particularly in warmer vintages, the herbal/grassy/minty characters are found in cool grown Cabernets. Fine tannins and good acidity are hallmarks of the wines.

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Italian Flag Italian Wine. Italian Flag




This section includes both some of the better known Italian wines, and some more unusual varieties.

Barolo.

From the Piedmont region in northwest Italy, older versions of this wine have a tendancy to be tough and flavourless when young. However, more modern versions are quicker to reveal rich berry and spice flavours from the Nebiolo grape, and take much less time to mature.

Bianco di Custoza.

Mainly from the Veneto in the northeast. It is a crisp, light white wine.

Brunello di Montalcino.

Produces wine from the same grape variety as Chianti, but generally keeps longer. It needs at least five years to develop a tobacco, herb and berry flavour.

Cannonau di Sardegna.

A traditional Sardinian dry or sweet red wine made from the Cannonau grape. This variety is also used in Rioja in Spain and in Cotes du Rhone in France.

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Carmigano

A wine from the Tuscan region often described as a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chianti.

Chianti.

From originally being sold in straw covered bottles, this wine can now compete with many middle of the range clarets.

Chiaretto di Bardolino.

Produces light, berry reds and roses from around Lake Garda. However, it is fairly rare to find it in this country.

Copertino.

Made in Puglia in southern Italy, this is a very berryish wine made from the Negroamaro grape.

Cortese.

A herby grape traditionally used in Piedmont to make rich white Gavi.

Dolcetto.

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Another grape from the Piedmont region in northern Italy making a wide range of reds. These include soft reds for everyday drinking to robust, long lasting wines. With a cherryish flavour, most examples are best drunk young.

Frascati.

A popular dry white from Latium, Rome, is best drunk within a year of its vintage. Often rather dull, there are however some good examples with a slight sour cream flavour.

Gavi.

This creamy, dry white wine from Piedmont, while nice enough cannot compete with a good Chablis or Chassagne-Montrachet.

Grechetto.

A white grape native to Italy, it is fresh and herby and produces a world class wine when aged in oak barrels.

Lambrusco.

The usual example of a Lambrusco in England is a weak, sweet fizzy wine. In Italy, however, you are just as likely to find a dry red with the flavour of unripe cherries. To get a good bottle of Lambrusco, at least start by buying a bottle with a cork, rather than a screw cap.

Marsala.

This is a dark, rich fortified wine from Sicily. It is used mostly for cooking.

Nebbiolo.

A red grape from Piedmonmmt producing wines with cherry and spicy flavours. Often slow to mature, they become complex with age.

Nuragus di Cagliari.

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A tangy, floral white made from the Nuragus grape in Sardinia.

Orvieto.

This white from Umbria is soft, fruity and can have a touch of oaky vanilla in good examples.

Pinot Bianco.

A pleasantly light white wine, compared to the rich and creamy variety from Alsace.

Pinot Grigio.

Another Alsace grape, producing good examples which are spicy and floral.

Prosecco di Conegliano.

A soft, traditional and slightly earthy fizz made from the Prosecco grape, near Venice.

Recioto.

Can be sweet or dry, but are invariably strong, made from ripe semi dried grapes in the Veneto region.

Salice Salentino.

A spicy, peppery red with faint flavours of liquorice. Made from the Negroamaro grape in Puglia, south Italy.

Soave.

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Often dull, mass produced stuff, but some examples can have an unusual almond flavour. Very sweet examples exist made from grapes left to dry until they are almost raisins.

Tocai.

Light and herby white wine from north east Italy.

Valpolicella.

Often commercialised light red wine from the Veneto region. Generally best drunk young, when it has a cherry flavour. Other variations include Amarone, made from partly dried grapes giving a bitter-sweet wine.

Verdicchio.

Mainly from the east of the country, this is at best a spicy white grape.

Vermentino.

A herby, dry white wine made from Vermentino grapes from Liguria on the Adriatic coast.

Vin Santo.

A dessert wine, similar to sherry, made from grapes left to dry for up to six years. Produced mainly in Tuscany and Trentino.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Made from the same grapes as Chianti. Ages well to give rich, full reds. A lighter version is the Rosso di Montepulciano.

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French Flag French Wine. French Flag




This section on French wine is divided into regions including
Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Corsica, Rhone Valley, Loire Valley, Provence, South West.

Alsace Region.



Riesling.
Riesling is a dry, well balanced wine, and the best grape variety of Alsace.

Gewurztraminer.
The word "Gewurz" means "spicy" in German, and this is an apt description of this wine. It ages well, and is fruity, perfumed with a flowery bouquet.

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Bordeaux Region.



The region of Bordeaux is one of the most important wine producing areas of the world. Itself produces a third of France's quality red wine. It may be divided again into the regions below.

Medoc.
Graves.


Saint-Emilion.


Pomerol.


Sauternes and Barsac.


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Burgundy Region.



Again, this large region (stretching from just south of Paris to Lyon in the South) is divided into further regions.

Chablis.


Cotes de Nuit.


Cote de Beaune.


Beaujolais.


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Corsica Region.



The best wines from this region are subtle rose and dry white wines. They are best drunk young and fresh. Two main regions exist; Patrimonio, which produces the distinctive Rose and Ajaccio which produces red wines which are capable of aging a few years.


Rhone Valley.



Rhone Valley, or Cotes du Rhone, wines are mostly red. They are robust wines, with an alcohol content higher than that of many other wines. The cotes du rhone can be divided into vineyards.

Cote Rotie.


Hermitage.


Chateauneuf du Pape.


Cotes du Rhone / Cotes du Rhone Village.


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Loire Valley.



Pouilly and Sancerre.


Touraine.


Anjou - Saumur.


Muscadet.


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Provence.


Some of Frances oldest vineyards are in this region. They use a wide range of grape varieties in their wines. Red examples include Carigan, Cinsault, Mourvedre and white examples are Ugni, Clairette and Rolle. Aparticular speciality of this region is its Rose wine which is glistening and fruity.


South West.



Cahors.


Cotes de Buzet.


Monbazillac.


Gaillac.


Madiran.



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Spanish Flag Spanish Wine. Spanish Flag




Perhaps rather surprisingly, Spain has more land as a percentage of its whole down to vine than any other country in the world. However, the particularly dry, hot conditions keep actual production lower than some other leading wine producing countries. Spain produces a wide variety of excellent wines. Most of its red wines are released ready to drink, from the Cosechas, which are released on the same year of harvest, to the Gran Reservas which are not released sometimes until ten years after harvest. Spain can be divided into six key wine producing regions.

Rioja.


Penedes.


Ribera de Duero.


Rueda.


Jerez.


Valdepenas.



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Portugese Flag Port. Portugese Flag




Port is a brandy fortified wine made from the grapes of the Douro Valley, Portugal. It is an area of about 1000 square miles, stretching from 60 miles east of Porto to the border with Spain. Brandy is added to the wine to halt fermentation before all the sugar is used up. Hence port wine is sweeter, with a higher alcohol content. Below are summarised the basic categories of Port.

Ruby.

Named for its color, a dark rich red, ruby port is the simplest form of port -- aged three years in a wooden cask and bottled for immediate sale and consumption. Rubies are generally young and sweet with a fruity flavor. They are dessert wines and are also often used for mixing.

Tawny.

Again, named for their colour, Tawnies are a blended variety aged in wooden casks to give the wood time to draw out the deeper ruby colour from the wine.

Late Bottled Vintage.

Late bottled vintage ports have been left in the cask longer than a normal vintage, normally four years. They are bottled ready to drink as a substitute for the more expensive vintage style, although they may share the same year as a vintage. A slight variation on this theme is Vintage Character, which is a Late Bottled Vintage port that is a blend of a number of years.

Vintage.

The top-dog of port varieties, vintage ports are rubies from a single year that have been bottled after two years of aging. And not just any year will do -- a vintage year is one of surpassing value in quality of grape produced. Vintage years are not declared until after the second year of aging and it is not uncommon for most, sometimes all, port manufacturers to declare the same year a vintage year. Vintage ports take many years to mature; in general it is a question of the port producer, the quality of the vintage, and personal taste. A minimum of ten years is suggested although some would claim at least thirty years for the best results. Still others claim the vintage should be at least as old as the drinker! On the whole, vintage ports from producers with Portuguese names tend to mature more quickly than those from producers with British names. It is not necessarily a question of one being better than the other, just a difference in house styles. 1945 is still considered the greatest post-war vintage and one of the best vintages of this century although 1994 has recently been given many accolades.

White Port.

white port is typically an aperitif wine served chilled. In all seriousness, white port is made by the same process as for red port but using white grapes (actually white port is typically fermented more fully than red, before the brandy is added). White port can be sweet or, if the fermentation process is extended, very dry.

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