Who Makes What in the Wine World

Following my comments a few days ago about a drop in wine production in many countries of the world, a friend asked me just who is making all the wine on the shelves. It's an interesting question because when we see headlines about the largest wine producing countries, many others get out of the discussion.

Every year, the gold medal for wine production seems to alternate between France, Spain and Italy, three countries that have a long history of wine production and wine consumption. Spain and Italy in particular also have a long history of producing "bulk wine," wine that is generally pretty bland stuff but that fills glasses at bars and bistros around the world. Both countries have areas that are very warm and produce huge quantities of grapes.

Quality wine now comes from the vineyards of Cariñena, Spain (Photo: (c) Lyn Farmer)

Quality wine now comes from the vineyards of Cariñena, Spain (Photo: (c) Lyn Farmer)

Both Spain and Italy tended to have poorer regions in the southern part of the country so both land and labor were inexpensive, making production of bulk wine commercially feasible. Unfortunately, that production tended to mask the fact many of these areas could also produce quality wine if given a chance. That chance has come over the last 20 or so years and we are now seeing vibrant "new" (at least new to the market) wine regions. In 1970, you would have raised a lot of eyebrows suggesting great wines would every come from Puglia (the "heel" of Italy's boot), from Cariñena in Spain or even from the Languedoc in the south of France.

I've had stunning wines from all three of those regions in the past few weeks. These days it's wine pricing in those areas that is more likely to raise eyebrows, or the ratings wines from those areas achieve in blind tastings. In fact, it's a whole new world of wine out there, which makes a lot of additional homework for us wine educators and a lot more variety for wine consumers.