Category Archives: Wine Regions

Wines of South Africa

south africaCC image courtesy of orkomedix.

Posted by Byron Crowe II on May 9, 2013.

Although wine may not be your first thought when you think of Africa, it is home to one of the top ten wine-producing countries in the world.  South Africa, a large country on the continent’s southern tip, has a rich history of wine production. The first South African wines were made over 300 years ago by Dutch Colonists using wild grapes that grew along the southwestern coast.  Today, South Africa has garnered international acclaim for the wide variety of fine wines produced in its unique, southern-Mediterranean-esque climate.

The Grapes

While white grape varietals dominated South African production as late as the 1990s, there is now a greater amount of balance between red and white production, with 45% of hectares planted being red varietals. The top white varietals include Chenin Blanc—referred to locally as “Steen”—Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay.1  The most-planted reds are Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinotage, and Merlot.2 Continue reading

Moroccan Wine

Moroccan wine

Posted by Alicia Harris on April 1, 2013.

With only eight miles separating Morocco from Spain and a history of occupation by both France and Rome, it should not be surprising that Morocco has a long history of wine production.  In fact, the first evidence of viticulture in the area can be dated back to the Phoenicians in the first millennium B.C.1  Though today Morocco does not hold the strong wine-producing reputation of France and Italy, and in fact the consumption of alcohol in the country is legally prohibited, Moroccan wines should not be overlooked.

Viticulture in Morocco first flourished during the French occupation in the early 20th century.  The Meknes region, located at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, is shielded from both the desert climate of the Sahara and the moisture of the Atlantic Ocean by mountains, thereby providing the county’s best terroir.2  Here, the French cultivated several vineyards whose yield was sold to compatriots living in Morocco and also blended with French wines (before the practice was banned by the Treaty of Rome in 1957).3 Continue reading

The New Face of Japanese Wine

japanese wineCC image courtesy of CLF.

Posted by Andrew Maharajh on March 14, 2013.

If you’re anything like me, a reference to Japan inspires thoughts of sushi, skulking ninjas, and giggling schoolgirls.  But wine?  No way.  Who hears Japan and thinks wine?  Well, we’d be misguided to overlook the prospect of Japanese wine.

First, Japan has been producing fruit wine for about a thousand years.1  Traditional Japanese wines are produced from a variety of fruits, from apricot plums2 to yuzu3 (a sour Japanese citrus fruit) to pineapples.4  Plum wine, or Umeshu [梅酒] in Japanese, is the most common.  Umeshu is a staple in Japan, found in almost all Japanese liquor stores, convenience stores, and alcohol-serving restaurants—some vending machines even carry cans of it!  The plums themselves are grown across Japan, from northern regions like Hokkaido5 to more southern regions like Wakayama.6  Most forms of Umeshu are very sweet, but different variations bring out dry, smoky, and bitter undertones that can create relatively complex tastes.7 Continue reading

Madeira: A Fortified Gem

MadeiraCC image courtesy of Porto Bay Hotels & Resorts Events.

Posted by Jon Underwood on February 25, 2013.

Sherry is one of the greatest wines known to mankind.  For aroma, flavor, complexity, price, quality, and longevity it is hard to find an equal to the delicious drink from Jerez.  It is on par with Claret and Champagne, and I urge you to try sherry, or revisit it if it has been a while.  But this post is not about sherry­—did I mention I like sherry?—but rather its less well-known cousin, Madeira.1 Madeira is another fortified wine, produced on the  Portuguese island of Madeira in the North Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Africa.

Although Madeira may be underappreciated now, it has a special place in U.S. history.2  John Hancock, a leading Bostonian political figure during the revolutionary era, was also a businessman who imported foreign goods.  On the evening of May 9, 1768, his ship Liberty arrived in Boston Harbor carrying a shipment of Madeira.  The ship was inspected by customs officials just the next morning, but they found that the hold contained only one quarter of its total capacity of wine.3  When a report indicated that Hancock had secretly unloaded the majority of his Madeira shipment to avoid paying a duty, Liberty was seized by the customs officers.  Tensions between the local Bostonians and Royal Navy were already running high because of the Navy’s habit of press-ganging,4 and a riot broke out when customs officers began towing Liberty to a nearby Royal Navy warship.  Customs officials then started two lawsuits: one in rem against Liberty, and one in personam against Hancock.  The suit against Liberty was successful and the ship was confiscated.  The suit against Hancock eventually petered out, and the charges were dropped without explanation in March 1769.5  The end result of the Liberty affair was to galvanize anti-British feeling (and exacerbate later tensions over another excellent beverage, tea). Continue reading

The Best of Australia

sydney harborYalumba Riesling by the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Posted by Tom H. on February 11, 2013

Many Americans’ familiarity with Australian wine begins and ends with “critter wines” like Yellow Tail.  These wines attract attention for their cute labels and low prices, but they are generally unexceptional in quality.  Although critter wines continue to permeate retail shelves, serious wine drinkers should not forsake the Australian section of their local wine shop.  Much of the country continues to produce high-quality wines at affordable prices.

The Australian wine market has been shaped by its focus on exports.  Although Australia is only the seventh largest producer of wine by volume, it is the fourth highest in wine exports, with domestic consumption only accounting for forty percent of production. 1  This need to export has required Australian wineries to compete aggressively with established Old World producers like France, Italy, and Spain on both price and quality.  As a result, the Australian wine industry is among the most sophisticated in the world, adopting new technology and branding techniques to maintain a competitive advantage.  While good wine is produced in all of the Australian states, two regions are worthy of particular note for American consumers: the Barossa Valley in South Australia and the Margaret River in Western Australia. Continue reading

Wine from China?: Obstacles to Establishing an International Reputation

Chinese wineCC image courtesy of Tan Ah Beng.

Posted by Lindsay Rutishauser on January 31, 2013

When it comes to wine, China does not yet have a strong international reputation.  Although China is the world’s fifth largest wine producer,[1] its domestic wine producers have historically emphasized quantity over quality, preventing Chinese wine from developing a global reputation.[2]  The quality of Chinese wine has significantly improved in the past twenty years, but several obstacles are likely to prevent Chinese wines from establishing a reputation for high-quality wine in the near future.  This post will highlight some of these obstacles.

The infancy of the Chinese domestic wine industry

The modern Chinese domestic wine industry is only about two decades old, which partially explains why its wine quality lags behind foreign wines.  Wineries have been present in China since the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 8 A.D.), but historically, the Chinese preferred to drink baiju, a grain-based spirit, instead of wine.[3]  During the Communist Revolution of 1949, China’s wineries were converted into state-owned enterprises, which produced blended wine using water, fermented cereals, sugar, and colorings instead of pure grape juice.[4]  The wine industry was resurrected in 1987 when the government began promoting wine consumption in an attempt to shift consumption away from grain-based alcohol.[5]  Soon thereafter, Chinese wine producers adopted modern winemaking practices,[6] and the government promulgated national wine quality standards.[7]  These developments led to a rapid increase in wine production, with total production more than tripling from 2002 to 2010, but the industry still lacks the history and experience of other winemaking countries.[8] Continue reading

Appreciating the Underrated: Portuguese Wine


Posted by Chris Benedik, January 28, 2013

Too often, what people know about Portuguese wines stops at Port.  While the country is rightly famous for its dessert wines (Madeira’s from there too), there is other fantastic wine coming out of Portugal these days.  A lot of it has a few major advantages over the famous stuff: it is easier to get into and significantly cheaper.  So I want to talk about some of those other wines and a few regions and grapes that are definitely worth your attention.  Like Italian or French wine, Portuguese wine is named by the region that produces it, and I’ll be hopping from region to region.

A good place to start is the other Portuguese wine that has made a name for itself internationally: Vinho Verde.  Literally “green wine,” it is bottled and sold unaged and therefore is light, simple, and redolent with citrus and melon flavors.  Red and rosé Vinho Verde are available, but white is by far the most common. White Vinho Verde is often made from Alvarinho grapes and, fittingly, is actually slightly green.  Bring a well-chilled bottle of this one on a picnic or just for sitting out on someone’s porch (once spring finally comes).  It is a much better wine to drink then pontificate on—problematic for your writer, but great for you, especially because it usually retails for less than ten bucks a bottle.  Frankly, whether it’s Gazela, Casal Garcia, or a smaller producer, you’re getting refreshment and citrus and not too much else, but that’s what you want when you grab a Vinho Verde.  It’s for porches on warm days, picnics, and seafood, and nothing is better. Continue reading