Red Wines of the World
Apart from France, the main red wine exporting countries are Italy, Spain, Portugal and South Africa. Of these, probably Italy produces the most varied range — from Piedmont in the mountainous north, to Calabria in the south. But the United States and Australia are turning into major wine growing areas too.
Although none competes with the great wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux, there are vintage Italian wines, and Spanish wines too, of considerable merit. They could very well find their way into many more lists, now that the prices of the classic reds of France are soaring so high. ITAL The rise in imports of Italian wines into Britain, for example, during 1972, was unprecedented — the fastest growth rate of any European wine-supplying country. And most significant was the increased quantity of quality wines: something like three-quarters of the total were bottled in Italy. She is the largest wine producer in the world, with an annual output of about 1,540 million gallons, of which 187 million gallons are exported, mainly to Common Market countries, the United States and Britain. Considerable quantities now carry the D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) seal, similar to France’s Appellation Controlee, and this is not lightly bestowed. It has been in force since 1963, but growers in some areas had their own consortia laws, like those of Chianti Classico, for example, which go back to 1932.
Italian wine names are indicative of the grape used — Barbera, Vernaccia, Lagrein; alternatively, they may take the name of a place which is also a district (Chianti, Valpolicella, Etna, for example), or of a district to which a single place has given its name, like Barolo, Barbaresco, Orvieto. Barolo from Piedmont, one of Italy’s larger wine regions, I have for a long time regarded as the best of all Italian wines. It is made from the Nebbiolo grape, and although comparisons are rarely quite fair, as an indication of its robust nature and characteristics I would say that it is nearer to the best Rhones than to any other reds. It has been described as ‘dry and smooth, velvety and full-bodied’ and having ‘a superb perfume of violets against a tarry background’. Barolo is aged in wood for three years and goes on maturing in bottle.
Similar, but quicker to mature, are Barbaresco (a town with a red Roman tower) and Barbera, which is fruity and usually drunk young.
Verona’s three wines are all named after places nearby — Valpolicella and Bardolino (both reds) and a white, Soave.
Bardolino, from the shore of Lake Garda, has a distinctive charm and, like Valpolicella, is generally lighter than the wines of Piedmont or Tuscany, the home of Chianti. This varies widely, from the light and fresh (to be drunk young), to the more austere, darker ‘Chianti Classico’ wines which will improve considerably with age. Less well known are the wines of Torgiano, just south of Perugia, which also age gracefully (I found a 1964 delightful). They have a most attractive deep ruby colour, a fragrant ‘nose’, dryness and good balance.
Some Italian red wine
Barolo: good bouquet, full-bodied, needs time to mature
Valpolicella: fruity, soft and full
Barbera: fruity and powerful
Chianti (Classico): austere, needs time to mature
Sangiovese:/u Barbaresco: a little lighter than Barolo
Bardolino: lighter than Barolo
Grignolino: ligh Valtenesi: light
Frosinone: both dry and sweet
Brachetto: sparkling, semi-sweet
Lambrusco: sparkling, dry
Barbacarlo: often frizzante
Buttafuoco: often frizzante
The red wines of Spain have suffered, rather unfairly, from their ‘image’ as the cheapest in the supermarkets and (by the glass) in bars. Certainly a vast gallonage is now brought by tanker to be bottled under supermarket names, or brand names like ‘Rocamar’, ‘La Vista’ or ‘Do Cortez’, and these are admirable within their price range. But, from the Rioja district especially, there are some splendid reds of character and age, like Fuenmayor A.G.E. Consecha 1954, which is bottled in Spain. ‘Consecha’ means vintage, but not necessarily in the sense of ‘all of one year’. By local custom, some excellent wines keep the original date although they have been ‘refreshed’ with later good vintages, on the same principle as the Solera system for making Sherry. About these wines, however, there is consistency as well as maturity. From Haro, in the Rioja, are shipped some admirable ‘consecha’ wines which are liable to become better known. One of them is a red with plenty of body and fruitiness, labelled simply Gran Reserva. Both the 1955 and the 1957, I found to have character if not great distinction, and to represent good value in the context of today’s prices. This may be said, too, of the cheaper, more flowery Vina Vial (described as Burgundy-type), and the light red Banda Azul. PORTUGA Portugal’s red table wines are, perhaps, less ranging, with few vintage wines. Here again, we have become accustomed to brand names like ‘Justina’. Two Portuguese reds which are unpretentious but usually good value are Periquita, big and full-bodied, and Vila Real, lighter in colour as well as in body, and nearer in style to Claret than to Burgundy. Full-bodied and Burgundian in style are the Dao wines — the familiar brand names are ‘Alianca’ and ‘Gran Vaoco’. They come from the terraced hillsides rising from the Dao and Mondego Rivers, and they age well; I have drunk a 1962 of character and distinction.
Portugal produces a few other note-worthy red wines with connections of historical interest to British people: for example, from the district close to the baroque palaces of Cintra (where Byron wrote ‘Childe Harold’) comes a red beverage wine, Colares, somewhat similar to a Rhone and a good deal less powerful than the red from Torres, a place made famous by Wellington in the Peninsular War.
Swiss wines often have a light sparkle and can be drunk young. They are not exported in quantity because of their comparatively high cost, but two are well known — Dole and Cortaillod — both fresh, light and fruity. ARGENTIN Argentina is one of the largest wine-producing countries in the world, and not very much of it is exported — perhaps because the Argentinians drink it all themselves! The reds are sound and some of the best are sold under the labels of Cabernet Reservado and Cavrodilla Tinto.
The Chilean red wine Cabernet, named after the grape, is darkish and smooth, and is popular in North America as well as Britain.
The Mukuzani red from Georgia is worth a trial.
Moroccan reds can be economical as well as agreeable for everyday drinking; one I commend is Sidi Mabrouck.
Apart from a ‘Claret’, these are inclined to be sweetish.
The best known abroad is Bull’s Blood, from Eger, a robust, heavy, dark red wine. It is as strong as a Rhone, and as soft as a Burgundy and matures for several years in wooden barrels, placed in rock caves.
The United States is seventh in the world list of wine-producing countries and its vineyards are based on stocks from Burgundy, Bordeaux, Alsace and the Rhine. Most US labels carry the names of these original stocks, and many European types of wine are emulated — Burgundy, Claret, and so on. Many of the best wines come from north of San Francisco, and most of these Californian wines are blended, though there are a few estate-bottled wines, some very good ones amongst them.
Australia exports some splendid reds, that deserve greater favour. Many of them have the French ‘Burgundy’ or ‘Claret’ descriptions, but Australians claim that their best wines are delicious in their own right, and should not be compared with European ones.
The main area for red table wines stretches between Adelaide and Sydney (where the first vines were planted in 1788), and includes the Hunter and Barossa Valleys, the area north-west of Brisbane, the Roma district and the Swan Valley, close to Perth.
Two Australian wines particularly to be commended are Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate Cabernet and Tahbilk Estate Shiraz.
Some dependable reds — like the fruity Nederberg Cabernet.