Mapping out the world of red wine

PHOTO: Creative Commons

When it comes to red wine there are certain grape varieties that are synonymous with particular countries. I’m talking about a variety that a country excels in and is known for. Sure, there are many other varieties that a country produces, but this variety is what puts them on the wine map of the world.

Argentina, specifically the Mendoza region of the country, does a great job with Malbec. This traditional, not particularly long-lived, Bordeaux varietal is usually blended in with other grapes in France mainly because it is not warm enough there to properly ripen it to the point where it can play solo in a wine.

However, in Argentina, a longer hang time on the vine because of warmer temperatures allows this variety to ripen and become concentrated enough to star in a uni-varietal vino, even one with moderate aging potential. In Argentina, this grape leads to dark, full wines with plummy, blackberry, black cherry, milk chocolate, and/or violet notes. Argentina has truly made this baby its own.

I don’t think there is a wine drinker on the planet that is not familiar with Shiraz from Australia. The same grape as Syrah in France, Australia’s unique climate produces a sweeter more coffee-like, chocolaty version of the wine along with the same spicy, earthy, blackberry nuances. A delightful “New World” version of the grape!

Almost entirely indigenous to California comes Zinfandel. Genetically, almost the same grape as Primitivo in Italy, this somewhat jammy, raspberried, spicy, alcoholic red shines in the golden state. It has made quite a reputation for itself, not only in its original form, but also as a rosé (Blush, white Zin).

In South Africa and the Cape you will see lots of Pinotage. The genetically modified crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsault has become the hallmark of South Africa. With its unique aromas and flavours of cherry, smoke, earth, plum and medicinal notes, it is a robust wine that does justice to hearty fare and game.

Italian wine lovers rejoice, this country has two biggies. Many wine consumers know the merits of Sangiovese, especially from Tuscany. As perhaps the most well-known and touted, red variety that the country offers in such winners as Brunello, Vino Nobile and Chianti, it’s hard to deny its beauty. Chock full of tart cherry, sweet leather, plum, violet and red berry, it is absolutely dynamite with all types of cuisine, especially Italian. Then there is Nebbiolo, especially from Piedmonte, that is the heart and sole of such classics as Barolo and Barbaresco. Wines like these that smack of roses, truffles, cherries, leather, tar and tobacco are legendary.

Pinot Noir is known as the “heartbreak grape” because it is hard to grow, deletes nutrients from the soil, the young vines don’t make great wine and clonal selection is so important. But perhaps no other place on the planet does as consistent a good job with it as Burgundy, France. It is “Valhalla” for this variety. Stewed red fruit, earth, boiled beetroot, and delicate spiciness is what they are all about here.

Spain makes some fabulous red wines, but none more exciting and delicious than those spawned from Tempranillo. In fact, it is the essence of world-famous Rioja. With yummy notes of sweet red fruit, tobacco, vanilla and round mellow tannins, it is one fine sip.

What better way to enjoy the holiday season than with one or more of these signature red varietal wines.


Edward Finstein is a wine writer, author, TV and radio host, educator, judge.

Connect with him on Twitter at @DrWineKnow, or on Facebook


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