A Pocket Guide to Europe’s Popular Wine Regions
Majority of wine lovers agree that Europe produces the world’s greatest wines. Italy, France and Spain are the top three largest wine producers in the world followed by countries outside of Europe, United States and Australia. However, it’s a little surprising to find out that the origins of wine trace back to West Asia, where evidence of wine production was discovered in Armenia and Georgia that dates back between 6,000 BC to 4,000 BC.
From West Asia, the wine trail travelled all the way to the Mediterranean where the seafaring cultures of the ancient Phoenician and Greeks spread wine throughout Europe. The grapes survive the new climates and mutate, resulting in new grape varieties or ‘cultivars’. Today, there are around 10,000 wine varieties identified. Italy has more than 350 grape varieties while France has 204 native grape varieties and Spain has 84.
It would be a waste for travellers or tourists not to try wine tasting activities, visit any wine region, or buy good-tasting wines in a European wine store when visiting this part of the world. There’s an abundance of grapes to discover, vineyards to visit and different European red and white wines to try.
Here’s a quick guide to Europe’s well-known wine region destinations:
Italy is home to some of the world’s famous wines— Chianti, Prosecco, Barolo, Valpolicella, Soave, Orvieto and Etna. This country produces roughly 19 percent of the world’s wines. The wine regions of Italy are located in the far north, usually nestled in mountain valleys at the edge of the Alps. Piedmont’s famous vineyards are on higher, hillier hills on the western edge of the Po Valley. Tuscany and other wine regions sit on Apennines' edges. Sicily’s famed vineyards are on the eastern slopes of the peninsula.
- Piedmont has more DOCG wines than any other Italian region - 16 DOCG and 42 DOC wines.
- They produce 65% red wine such as Barbera, Nebbiolo and Dolcetto and 35% white wine which includes Moscato, Cortese and Arneis.
The Po Valley towns are famous for its wine and food tours.
- Sicily is home to Etna, Cerasuolo di Vittoria and Marsala.
- They have 23 DOCs and 1 DOCG which is the Cerasuolo di Vittoria.
- It is the largest island in the Mediterranean.
- Tuscany is most famous for its Sangiovese-based dry red wines.
- They have 11 DOCG and 41 DOC wines.
- Tuscany is the birthplace of Renaissance.
France has a profound impact on new and emerging wine countries. There are 11 major wine regions with a wide variety of climates and territories but the most influential regions are Bordeaux, Bourgogne, the Rhône Valley, the Loire Valley, and Champagne. The famous vineyards of Bordeaux sit on gravelly land near Gironde Estuary. Burgundy and Rhône Valley are on the hillsides.
- Alsace’s wines are defined by AOC law (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. The 3 major AOCs are Alsace AOC (92% white still wines), Crémant d’Alsace AOC (Sparkling white and rosé wines), and Alsace Grand Cru AOC (Limited special vineyard wines.
- Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and some of Alsace’s famous wines.
Alsace is a cultural region and a popular tourist destination.
- Merlot is the most planted grape variety of Bordeaux.
- 89% of Bordeaux’s wine are red — many of which are the most expensive wines in the world.
While synonymous for its wines, Bordeaux is a destination city with many tourist attractions.
- Burgundy’s famous grape varieties are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
- Chablis is a Burgundy dry white wine that is well-known in the region.
Burgundy (English) is called by many different names — Bourgogne in French, Burgund in German and Borgogna in Italy.
- Champagne is often associated as a sparkline wine drink for celebrations.
- EU regulations state that wines made in the Champagne region must use the specific winemaking technique called méthode champenoise. This is to protect its name and legacy where no other region outside Champagne can use the name.
The main grapes used in Champagne wine are chardonnay and pinot noir.
- Loire Valley’s famous wines are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Muscadet and Cabernet Franc.
- Loire Valley produces 41% white wine, 27% rosé, 19% red and 13% sparkling wine. The region is voted as the best producers of European white wines.
UNESCO declared the central part of the Loire river valley as a World Heritage Site in 2000.
Rhône Valley (North and South)
- Rhône has 30 different AOC appelations - 23 in Southern Rhône and 8 in the Northern Rhône Valley.
- Their sought-after wines are Syrah, Grenache-Syrah Blend and Marsanne Blend (white).
Tourists can enjoy different outdoor activities such as cycle tours, horseback riding around the vineyards and picnics on scenic spots.
- Southern France is known as “France’s Hidden Corner” because it is hidden between the Pyrénées Mountains and Spain to the south, Bordeaux to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean on the west.
- It is divided into four sub-regions: Bergerac & Dordogne River, Garonne & Tarn, Lot River and Pyrénées - each producing distinct red and white wines.
- The grape varieties found in this region are Merlot, Malbec and Semillon as well as the indigenous varieties such as Mérille and Ondenc.
Spain’s wine making history spans 3,000 years. They have over 600 grape varieties with only 20 varieties used in the majority of wines. Airén is the variety used in white wine while garnacha is used for red wine. Spain’s famous wine region is Rioja. Rioja is located in a river valley hidden by mountain ranges to the north and the west. Rioja wines have four classification levels: Genérico, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. Their wines are medium to full-bodied with high tannins. Its distinct flavours are dark berries, plum, tobacco and herb.