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Are French and Spanish wines that good? Here’s a guide to get you up to speed!

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Pronouncing French wines accurately while gifting it to someone is something that few Singaporeans would do, much less exude confidence while doing so. However, when it comes to wine, the French will undoubtedly be the first to come to mind, as opposed to its European counterparts… let’s say the Spanish and the Italian. Oh wait, what about the Aussie wines? They have great wine varieties too. Today, it is time for us to take up the daunting task of amalgamating useful wine information into a single resource all in the name of increasing awareness and appreciation for wine.. 

Full disclosure: We won’t be covering everything under the sun. This primer aims to offer basic key information about wines from popular sources, namely France, Spain, Italy, and Australia. 

Sans plus tarder, mesdames et messieurs, commençons.

French vs Italian vs Spanish vs Australian – Wines at a glance

French WinesItalian WinesSpanish WinesAustralian Wines
Heavy emphasis on location. The more specific, the better. Renowned for its creation of premium wines.Leading producer in wine exports (2020) with one of the most no. of grape varieties available. Inconsistent naming of wine labels - region or grape variety.A warmer feel out of the 3 European countries.The Spanish has the most no. of regulations and testing in place. Tends to find demand among less affluent buyers, particularly as non-bottled bulk imports.Consumer friendly, easy-to-read labels, affordable, and still remarkable in terms of quality. Generally produces fuller bodied wines with a high level of acidity and alcohol.
Some Premier Wine Regions to visit (after COVID-19)Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace, ChampagneValle d’Aosta, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, TuscanyLa Rioja, Castilla y Léon, Catalonia, Castilla La ManchaYarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Margaret River, Hunter Valley, Adelaide Hills
Recommended Starter Packs (on Vinomofo)Bordeaux Lineup 5.0Cosmo Sicilia Rosso IGT 2018Marqués del Silvo Rioja 2019Kilikanoon Prodigal Grenache 2017

A closer look at the French Wines. Ah, la vache! (Oh, my cow)

French wines are generally classified into regions and further broken down into its subregions, rather than the type of grapes. Here are some of the major wine-producing regions in France, along with one-liners to best describe each of them:

Alsace – white wines make up 90% of the region’s production and tend to be drier and crispier.

Bordeaux – home to over 10,000 producers, wines here are usually medium-bodied and fruity reds ranging from a few euros all the way to several thousand euros!

Burgundy – red wines are called pinot noirs and chardonnays for whites. This region is well known for getting the most out of the grapes and these wines age well.

Champagne – world-renowned sparkling wines. Did you know it is illegal to label any product Champagne unless it came from this region and produced under the rules of the appellation? 

Languedoc-Roussillon – a region that produces full-bodied, fruity reds, and rosés of exceptional value. 

Loire Valley – best known for its white wines namely sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and muscadet, but is in fact one of the most diverse wine-growing regions, covering red, rosé, and sparkling wines.

Provence – when you think rosé, you must think of Provence. The Bandol subregion would be the first stop for the most refreshing rosés.

Rhône – located in south-eastern France, the wines are known for robust and spicy reds.

There are also a few common labels/terms that are useful to know:

Terroir – The wine’s place of origin. As a rule of thumb, the more specific the Terroir on the wine label, the better it is.

Cru – Indicates the potential and quality of the terroir. Grand Cru is the cream of the crop, while the tier right below it is Premier Cru.

Vino Italiano

Wine and food come hand in hand when you’re in Italy – Both play an important part in the country’s identity and culture.

The labelling of Italian wine is comparatively more inconsistent than its counterparts. Wines can be named after the region or town they come from, but could also be named after the grapes they were made from.

But that’s for another day.

Image Source: Federdoc

Similar to France, wines with an indication or origin would typically have higher potential to be extraordinary. In addition to the graphic above, DOCG wines have the highest level of quality, followed by DOC, and IGT. But in reality, some IGT wines can be very valuable too.

There are also a few common labels/terms that are useful to know:

Annata: A grape-harvest from a particularly good year

Azienda Agricola: Farm where grapes are grown

Classico: a specified area within a region in Italy known for its standards of quality

Produttore: Producer

Riserva: Italian wine that is aged longer than average

Superiore: Wine with a higher alcohol content indicating that the superiority of the grapes used

Tenuta: Estate

Vigneto: Vineyard

Spanish Wines: Affordable while certainly not lacking in quality.

Spanish wines serve as a great prelude to the Old World (birthplaces of wine, namely Europe and the Middle East).

The country has a strong bulk wine industry, an abundance of lesser-known grape varieties, and an industry focus on France and Italy. All of these factors make Spanish wine cheaper than in other countries. 

Having said that, the Spanish are still perfectly competent in brewing prestigious wines that command exorbitant prices.

One special thing to note is that some of its wineries age their wine on your behalf, cellaring them in oak barrels and bottles. The extent of aging is indicated by the terms Joven, Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva, where Gran Reserva would mean having cellared the longest.

Australian Wines are easier to read but are they better than the rest?

The Australian’s dominance in relative price tag, quality, and total productivity of its wine industry is a remarkable success story. They were even officially reported to be as good as the French. And far outmatches the Europeans when it comes to being consumer friendly.

By now, we can all agree that wines are extremely complex products, characterised by  attributes like region, variety of grape, winemaker, winery, and wine style.

That’s exactly why an Australian bottle of wine is manufactured in a way to help the consumer get information that would help them buy wines that they are more likely to enjoy, and therefore buy more of. Connoisseur or not. 

Its labelling system is also not as convoluted or restricted like it is in France.

Furthermore, wineries from the New World have lessened the importance of the terroir notion (climate, soil type, length of exposure to sunlight) and emphasised the importance of grape variety.

That doesn’t mean that terroir doesn’t matter.

As Australia has a warmer climate than Europe, the country generally produces more gracious fuller bodied wines with a high level of acidity and alcohol. 

Wines made in the cooler part like Yarra Valley and Adelaide Hills tend to feature less fruit and higher natural acidity.

Wines produced in McLaren, Vale and Barossa, aka the warmer parts, are known for full, soft and fruity flavours/aromas.

Feel there’s something lacking in this guide and want to do your part as a wine enthusiast? Reach out to us now!

Related: Vinomofo – The Only Wine Shop You Need In Singapore

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