Major Wine Regions of the United States
California produces world class wines in numerous appellations throughout the state. With the world renown Napa Valley leading the way, the wines of California have become recognized as some of the best wines produced in the world. The beauty of the wine producing regions in California is the sheer number of appellations and the diversity of varietals and styles produced.
- Napa Valley is known for its lush and powerful Cabernet Sauvignon and rich, decadent Chardonnays. In the great Paris Tasting of 1976 it was a Napa Valley Chardonnay by Chateau Montelena and a Napa Valley Cabernet by Stag’s Leap Cellars that shocked the world by beating the best French wines in a blind competition. The blend of long, warm growing seasons and rich alluvial and volcanic soils in so many different sub-climates allows Napa Valley to produce hundreds of diverse tasting wines. A great variety of stylish Sauvignon Blanc is also produced in the area.
- Sonoma Valley is known for being a bit more of a throw-back, a reflection of what world famous Napa Valley used to be like in the 1970’s. Sonoma produces great Merlot, Cabernet and Chardonnay, just like their neighbors to the east, but the coastal influences from San Pablo Bay and the Pacific cool night time and early morning temperatures provide ideal conditions for spectacular Pinot Noir.
- Santa Barbara and its neighboring appellations of Santa Maria and Santa Ynez produce rich, texturally pleasing wines with ripe fruits and opulent levels of alcohol. More decadent and candied than the cooler climate in Sonoma, the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay produced here have an expressive, almost sensual,l feel to them. In addition to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Santa Ynez are producing succulent variations on rich Rhone varietals, such as Grenache and Syrah.
- Paso Robles has been dubbed the “next Napa Valley” for decades with great infusions of capital and talent. Led by a plethora of Rhone varietal enthusiasts, Paso Robles has made its mark in producing world class Syrah, Grenache and Zinfandel. After decades of testing and experimentation, Paso Robles is now producing world class Rhone varietal whites, such as Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne.
Oregon’s Willamette Valley has the volcanic and sedimentary soils typical in the world’s great wine producing regions and its proximity to the cooling influences of the Pacific make it the ideal growing region for cool climate varietals like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris. The Pinot Noir take in a rich, earthy character similar to the great villages of Burgundy with just a little more richness. The Riesling and Pinot Gris maintain a great level of acidity due to the cool evenings and show bright and fresh aromatics due to the extended hours of daylight, more than any other area in the state.
Washington has great rich soils and long days with warm temperatures, not too dissimilar to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. With all four of the state’s major appellations in the southern half of the state, the vineyards sit in almost a high desert meaning water is scarce, making berry size small and the fruit flavors intense. Rich, layered wines are the norm, typically with a solid kiss of French oak. You will find fantastic Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Riesling and Chardonnay from Columbia Valley and its great sub-appellations Red Mountain, Yakima and Walla Walla.
Major Wine Regions of France
Bordeaux was the first region to transport large quantities of its wine for trade internationally. Its famed classification in 1855, ordered by Napoleon for the World’s Fair, was the first time properties were separated based on what they commanded in the commodities market. This paved the way for the stratification of wines within in a region that we see today. Known for its tremendously long-lived Cabernet Sauvignon, velvety Merlot, nuanced Sauvignon Blanc and its decadent Sauternes, Bordeaux is considered by many to be the preeminent wine producing region in the world. With its “Left Bank” wines showcasing powerful Cabernet Sauvignon and “Right Bank” wines offering velvety Merlot based wines, there is a gem for everyone. Though sounding complex, the hierarchy of the Classification of 1855 has stayed the same and made the buying of Bordeaux wines much more manageable, even for a novice. Our Bordeaux Classes at Meritage are a great way to help you sift through the different villages of Bordeaux and find your favorites.
- Bordeaux’s Major Right Bank Appellations:
- Pomerol is known for its fine powerful tannin and longevity in the cellar. It is also the smallest of the major appellations in Bordeaux.
- St Emilion is a fantastic medieval town with great clay and limestone soils that produces wines of rich, velvety texture and a slightly restrained opulence.
- Other appellations on the Right Bank, such as Fronsac, Blaye, LaLande de Pomerol and Cotes de Castillon offer great values for your table. These wines are well made in volume from these surrounding areas and maintain all the great character you expect from the finest Right Bank wines, just a bit simpler.
- Bordeaux’s Major Left Bank Appellations:
- Pessac-Leognan is right outside the limits of the city of Bordeaux with two of its most famed Chateaus, Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, surrounded by its urban sprawl. The soils are rich and covered in layers of large white rocks. Fantastic Cabernet, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are grown in this region with the red wines being powerful and earthy while the white wines are structured, showcasing tremendous depth and minerality.
- Margaux is just north in the Medoc and is known for its balance of power and elegance. Its soils are a mix of rock and clay, making it ideal for wines with great depth and texture.
- St Julien is another 15 kilometers north and has great rocky soils and just the right wisp of wind. The succulent and juicy Cabernet from this appellation tend to be quite focused, showcasing bright, red fruits such as cherry and cassis. They have great longevity in the cellar and are some of the most approachable Cabernet based wines from Bordeaux’s major appellations, right after Margaux.
- Pauillac is the most well-known appellation in Bordeaux due to having three of the five 1st growths within its borders, Mouton-Rothschild, Lafite-Rothschild and Latour. Pauillac is known for powerful, broad shouldered wines with great, deep, dark fruited flavors. The best wines of Pauillac will last centuries, or more, and take decades to start showing their breadth.
- St Estephe is on the northern border of Pauillac and produces wines with great purity. Sometimes a bit linear in their youth, these wines offer layers of aromatics and classic Cabernet fruits after careful cellar ageing.
- Haut-Medoc is one of numerous other Left Bank appellations in Bordeaux, but it is the most notable one due to its proximity to the great classified appellations of Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac and St Estephe. The Haut-Medoc surrounds these great appellations and takes advantage of their terroir in blends that are more approachable yet still develop well in the cellar for a decade or longer. Of course, one of the benefits is they tend to be half the price, or less, than their more famous neighbors, thus offering great values.
Burgundy produces some of the most sought after wines in the world. Known as the Cote d’Or, Burgundy is split into two very different regions, North and South. The North is known as the Cote de Nuits, producing mostly rich, powerful and long lived Pinot Noir with some of the most sought after Chardonnay in the world. The South is known as the Cote de Beaune, producing fleshy, ripe Pinot Noir that age great and it produces the most sought after Chardonnay in the world near the villages of Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet. The region’s wine and food are unsurpassed in their complexity and elegance.
Cote de Nuits has numerous appellations that offer tremendous variety in their flavor profiles.
- Nuits St Georges produces wines with great power and tannin, backed by rich dark cherries.
- Vosne-Romanee produces powerful, restrained wines with a fantastic underlying elegance.
- Vougeot produces rich, balanced and elegant wines with great expression of the earth intermixed with velvety fruits.
- Chambolle-Musigny produces fantastically elegant wines with subtle notes of earth and dried red berries underlying the fleshy, fruit driven attack.
- Gevry-Chambertin produces wines built to be long lived, but not with obvious power like the Nuits St Georges, rather the wines have layers and layers of earth and mineral notes carried by the fruit in the palate.
- Corton Charlemagne produces Chardonnays of immense depth and complexity.
- Chablis produces wines with rich, chalky character and tremendous acidity and freshness.
Cote de Beaune shows the same variety with a greater amount of Chardonnay.
- Beaune, Savigny-Les Beaune & Chory Les Beaune all produce ripe, forward, fleshy wines with great approachable layers and built in complexity.
- Pommard produces ripe, dark cherried wines with deep fruit on the mid-palate, but a bit more tannin that requires more patience in the cellar.
- Volnay produces powerful, dark fruited wine with layers of scorched earth intermixed with the deep, dark fruit flavors. A rich, tremendously fleshy Pinot Noir.
- Meursault produces wines known for their tart apple and pear notes intermixed with rich minerality in its world class Chardonnay.
- Puligny-Montrachet produces slightly more focused Chardonnay with bright citrus notes, especially lemon peel, intermixed with notes of flinty stone from the best vineyards.
- Chassagne-Montrachet produces ripe, fleshy, opulent Chardonnay from some of the best vineyards in the world. When aged properly, the wines can take on a second life with notes of almond, hazelnut or caramel along with fresh baked apple pie coming through on the finish.
Cote Chalonnaise is just south of the Cote de Beaune and is the home to some fantastic values in both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In particular, look for great offerings from Rully, Mercurey, Givry and Montagny.
Maconnais, located just south of the Cote Chalonnaise, also offers some tremendous value in Chardonnay aged with just a touch of oak and providing great freshness.
Champagne is located just outside of Paris and is the birthplace of sparkling wine, known from the region as Champagne. Due to its location in northern France, the cooler temperatures during the late fall and winter did not allow for full fermentation of the sugars to alcohol. A secondary fermentation occurred, exploding bottles to the pain and suffering of the winemaking monks in the region. Once Dom Perignon determined how to control the secondary fermentation and Madame Cliquot brought about the invention of the punted bottle for strength, Champagne was born. Champagne is crafted from three varietals, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Munier.
Major Wine Regions of Italy
Tuscany is one of the most well known regions for Italian wine. With thousands of Americans traveling to the region every year to lose themselves in the “Italian Lifestyle” for a week or two by renting a villa in the Tuscan region, it is no wonder Chianti and the so called Super Tuscans are best sellers. Tuscany is a dry arid region with rolling hills very similar to Napa Valley. The most commonly planted grapes are Sangiovese and Vernacchia with an increasingly large amount of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. These wines are fleshy, ripe and offer great freshness and acidity, typically ageing in wood for a year or more before bottling. This gives the wines complexity and they can age for a decade or more. The most well known areas in Tuscany are Bolgheri, Chianti Classico, Montepulciano and Montalcino.
Piedmonte has long been considered the region to produce Italy’s most noble wines. The region’s table wines consist of food friendly Dolcetto and Barbera. Both of these wines have fantastic aromatics, with the Dolcetto being slightly fresher and simpler and the Barbera being richer and more complex. Many in Piedmonte compare Barbera to Zinfandel for its food friendly freshness and the hundreds of different styles to its production. In the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco, the use of the tannic and long-lived Nebbiolo produces wines of uncommon power and layers of complexity. Barolo produces some of the most sought after wines in the world, with great earthiness and subtleties. Barbaresco tends to be a bit more aromatic and with less of a focus on the earth and more on the fresh red fruits, though it derives plenty of earth and layers of complexity from its soils. A bright, fresh white produced in the region is Arneis and it offers a fantastic alternative to Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. It is bright and floral on the aromatics with a fresh, clean finish.
Other regions of note in Italy include Veronese, Friuli, Sicilia and Sardegna. Each has its own special contribution to the many great wine producing areas of Italy.
- Veronese is known for producing the table wine Valpolicella and Amarone.
- Friuli is best known for its floral and succulent Pinot Grigio.
- Sicilia is known for rich, complex and spicy Nero d’Avolas.
- Sardegna offers a chance to taste native versions of Rhone varietals, such as Cannanou and Monica. Both produce wines that age beautifully and drink wonderfully with roasted meats.
Major Wine Regions of Spain
Spain has long produced treasured wines in Priorat and Rioja, while being able to also capture the world market with great values from Navarra and Campo de Borga. With the influx of capital to the country supporting a move towards better technology, we have seen Spain explode onto the world wine scene with unbelievable values from these regions. The wines being produced in the top areas of Rioja, Priorat and Ribera del Duero are now commanding similar prices to the best Napa Cabernets and Bordeaux.
Rioja produces great Tempranillo. They have always been known for their longevity in the cellar and you can find plenty of 30 to 50 year old Rioja Reservas and Gran Reservas on the market that are simply fabulous. They also produce some of the freshest and cleanest Tempranillo that sees just a touch of wood, called Crianza. It is a perfect pairing with any fall meal.
Priorat is known as the Pomerol of Spain for its small size and grand wines, both in quality and price. The extreme heat, low water fall and great drainage provide Bodegas with the opportunity to work with very small intense clusters to make wines that will age for decades or longer in the cellar. Priorat is mostly known for its production of Garnacha.
Ribera del Duero produces layered, elegant and fleshy versions of the Tempranillo we know from Rioja. Less tannic, but slightly riper in general, you see a more conservative use of wood and the results are a softer, more elegant wine at a younger age. The wines of Rioja tend to age longer, but there are a gaggle of new producers in Ribera del Duero that are challenging that assumption.
Major Wine Regions of Argentina
Argentina has exploded onto the international wine scene with its low cost, high quality production of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and, more impressively, Malbec. Malbec has always been seen as a blending grape in most regions, especially in Bordeaux’s Right Bank. The soils in Mendoza, however, offer a very unique opportunity for Malbec to ripen perfectly. There is great sun exposure during the day, but the nights tend to cool down dramatically. With a late ripening grape, such as Malbec, this poses a problem for the grapes to obtain ripeness. In Mendoza, however, the grounds on the hillsides are crushed shale. This shale acts like a brick in an oven, maintaining a higher level of heat overnight. With good canopy management allow for an awning over the grapes to protect it from sun during the day, the same awning acts to capture the heat as it rises at night enveloping the clusters in warmth so they may continue to develop through the evenings. This allows Argentina to ripen high quantity levels while maintaining the desired quality.