Discovering Wines from the New World
Today, the wine industry has crossed almost every border in the world. Although the three main world producers are located in Europe, wine is also produced in Chile, China and New Zealand. There is also a difference between the wines from Old Europe and the wines from the New World. This distinction distinguishes the countries from which the development of the vine originated, such as Georgia, and of course France, Spain, Portugal and Germany, from countries on other continents where wine-growing and viticulture was imported.
However, it is a mistake to believe, from our European point of view, that the New World is only a small part of the wine world and production, both from a quantitative and qualitative point of view. Indeed, it is no longer all that new and now holds a prominent place on the international scene. The English, more than the French, influenced by their historical link with the Commonwealth, have already understood this, as evidenced by their significant consumption of Australian, South African and American wines.
As proof, here is the ranking of wine producing countries in volume (in millions of hL, in 2017)
Afrique du Sud 10,8
Source : https://vinsdumonde.blog/
From this evidence emerges a new disconcerting reality for a French wine lovers, who might assume themselves to have a well-rounded wine knowledge thanks to knowledge linked to diverse French wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône-Alpes and nearby provinces! Indeed, it would be quite wrong to believe that the New World’s production of wine is homogenous, with solely “American-style” wines, those that are typically more woody, more powerful and sweeter. You only have to take a look at the relief map of Argentina or New Zealand’s climate map to understand that even within one country, there are multiple type of wines and different winemaking techniques.
Let’s take a look at the main differences between these new flagship countries on the world wine scene. Let’s start our tour of the new wine world by crossing the Atlantic Ocean to reach the city of Ottawa…
It might come as a surprise, but yes, there’s also wine in Canada! Even though the climate is continental with temperatures that can drop very low in the winter, the country’s large lakes moderate the annual temperatures and enable grapes and vines to grow. In the Niagara region in Ontario, located in Eastern Canada, ice wine production is very common, thanks to the presence of different grape varieties such as the Riesling or the Vidal. The Vidal is a hybrid grape variety which is robust and resilient to extreme cold. British Columbia, on the East coast of Canada, next to Vancouver, also produces a lot of wine thanks to more international varieties such as the Syrah or the Chardonnay.
The Okanagan Lake, in British Columbia, helps to lower temperatures and allows local vineyards to develop and grow soundly.
After the Okanagan Valley, travelling down the west coast, we end up in the United States. Wine is produced throughout the U.S, but the main wine producing states are California, Washington, Oregon and New York. We’ll focus on California, as it produces the largest quantity of wine within the U.S, as well as the best in the country. This region is very large and is even larger than some European countries such as Italy.
Thanks to varied sunshine conditions and heat, altitude and the cooling influence of the ocean, California produces many different types of wine. Indeed, a wide range of different wine types can be found, from the light Burgundy style Pinot Noir near the coast, to more robust wines in the Central Valley, California’s driest region. In general, as you might expect, California has a rather warm and dry climate. New grape varieties with a high resistance to heat have been introduced, such as the Ruby Cabernet or the Zinfandel. The latter is known to be typically Californian, and it can give full-bodied red wines, the famous White Zinfandel, or sweet rosé wines appreciated and highly valued by Americans.
A lot of irrigation is necessary for the viticulture’s well-being, but the Pacific Ocean often brings fog and cold winds which help refresh and cool these desert lands. The prestigious Napa Valley or the Sonoma Valley both take advantage of these particular conditions to produce wines of high quality. They are both part of the most expensive wine growing lands in California. Some European brands have also noted these particularities and are investing in the Napa Valley; such as the Chandon Domaine from the famous Champagne brand or the Domaine Opus One born from a partnership between the Chateau Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux et Robert Mondavi, an American wine producer.
Map of California wine regions with Napa and Sonoma in the north
If we continue in South America, Chile is next on the list. The Carménère, a typical red grape variety of the country gives full-bodied wines with hints of black fruits but it can also give very different wines depending on the region of production. The vineyards stretch over a large area of more than 900 km from north to south and only 100km from east to west, and as such they benefit from different climates and a wide range of wines. In the north of the country, on the edge of the Atacama Desert, it is rather hot, but the altitude and sea winds help to cool the temperature. It is there that the best Chilean Chardonnays are produced. Then, the further south we go, towards Patagonia, the cooler the climate is. In the centre, the natural barriers of the Andes Mountains help to temper and produce balanced wines that can sometimes be compared to the type of wines from the northern Rhône Valley, often made from Syrah.
Map of the Chilean wine regions
On the border with Chile, Argentina is the country with the highest vineyards in the world. Some vineyards are planted at over 300 meters above sea level, such as the Cafayate wine region in the province of Salta in the north of the country. The region’s extreme climate leads to highly concentrated wines. The Torrontes, a typical Argentinean white grape variety, offers wines with intense and fruity aromas. The Malbec, which is also found in Bordeaux or in south-west of France, is the flagship grape variety in Argentina where it is the most cultivated in the world, especially in the Mendoza region. Most high quality Malbecs are aged in new oak, which gives them interesting spicy notes and tastes.
Vines located in the Cafayete region, among the highest in the world.
Let’s change continents now and travel to South Africa, where high mountains are also present and allow the production of a wide range of wines. Most of the wine regions are located close to the coast and Cape Town with refreshing influence of the ocean and the proximity of the South Pole. Chenin Blanc is the most planted grape variety across the country. Equally known in the Val de Loire in France, the type of wine is very different there. Indeed, the same grape variety in two different countries adapts itself and is vinified differently. In Anjou, the climate is more humid and less sunny, so the Chenin gives rather fresh wines with more minerality and aromas of lemon and acacia. On the other hand, in South Africa, the weather and climate is much hotter and drier, alcohol levels are higher and aromas are much more ripe, with notes of apricot and pineapple. As for the red grape variety, the Pinotage, a mix between Pinor Noir and Cinsault, is characteristic of the country and has been planted almost exclusively in South Africa. It can be produced in different styles but often gives rich aromas of spices and berries.
Wine map of South Africa with vineyards mainly located in the west of the country around Cape Town.
A wine world tour would never be complete without a stop in Australia. Land of international grape varieties (Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet, Sauvignon…), this country has managed to adopt international varieties, found all over the world, and incorporate them into its own culture and land. The Chardonnay is the grape variety the most planted, but Australia is also known for its Riesling with lime-flavoured scents or robust Shiraz. The Shiraz is synonymous with Syrah in Europe, though it is useful to differentiate them in this way as they produce very different wines. It’s a question of terroir, topography, climate, soil…!
Australia also faces extreme extreme weather conditions with the lack of water and droughts that have cause several fires and have sometimes ravaged vineyards, as happened in December 2019. Climate change can cause severe problems and challenges for Australian viticulture. Today, producers are looking for cooler or temperate sites such as Tasmania, an island known for its fresh and balanced sparkling wines.
Kangaroos in the vineyards in the Barossa Valley where the climate is hot and dry.
Finally, to the east of Tasmania is located New Zealand. The climate is generally oceanic, even though the North Island is much warmer and humid and the South Island slightly more fresh and sunny. This difference accounts for the diversity of wines in New Zealand. The Sauvignon blanc has been the country’s flagship grape variety since the 1990s and accounts for most of the country’s production, especially in the Marlborough region. Vinified as a fresh and lively white wine, it has been recognized as the benchmark for producers around the world. The country also stands out by producing excellent Pinor Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Bordeaux blends.
Sauvignon Blanc vines as far as the eye can see in Marlborough.