In the third part of her wine course, Christine Austin serves up a few geography lessons with a country-by-country guide.

Wander around most wine shops and you will find their selection divided by colour – white, red and rosé, then subdivided by country of origin.

There have been some brave attempts to arrange wine shelves by taste labelling sections with words like ‘crisp and lively’ and ‘fresh and juicy’ but they found that customers were totally confused about what they were buying. It seems that we like to know where our wine comes from.

FRANCE

Second to Italy in terms of production, but generally regarded as more important in terms of top quality wines.

Key areas:

Bordeaux

Home to fabulous châteaux and fabulously expensive wines, but also home to decent, well-made Bordeaux rouge and blanc. The reds are Cabernet and Merlot-based; the whites are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

Points to learn: Left Bank means the Cabernet–based wines of Médoc and Graves; Right Bank means the Merlot-based wines of St Emilion.

1855 Classification – over 150 years old and in general it still holds in terms of price. ‘Cru’ translates as ‘Growth’ meaning estate. First to fifth growth wines will set you back serious money.

Try: Morrisons’ Claret £4.75

Ch. Margaux is one of the beautiful properties in Bordeaux 

Burgundy

Much, much smaller production than Bordeaux. 60% is red, made from Pinot Noir while whites are Chardonnay-based. The Pinots can lift your heart and ruin your wallet but sometimes these wines just disappoint. Chablis is often the most reliable white.

Beaujolais is often grouped with Burgundy but is a different grape – Gamay – and a lighter, juicier style.

Try: Mischief and Mayhem Pinot Noir 2015, Waitrose £14.99

Champagne

Not just any sparkling wine; Champagne must come from the specified region then made and aged in the prescribed way. It can range from super-cheap supermarket offerings, or top-flight special cuvées. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are the key grapes.

Try: Les Pionniers, Co-op £17.99

Champagne can only be made from grapes grown in the Champagne region

Loire

This long, languid river links Sancerre with Touraine, Saumur and Muscadet. White is the main theme, but Cabernet Franc shines in Saumur and Chinon.

Rhône

Northern Rhone is essentially Syrah-based – think Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and St Joseph. The key white is Viognier-based Condrieu.

Southern Rhône is a powerhouse of production, based on Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvèdre with other minor grapes. Côtes-du-Rhone and the more precise CDR Villages comes from a huge area and can be simple or absolutely fabulous.

Try: Lirac Les Closiers 2015, Rhône, Marks and Spencer £10.50

The South

That vast swathe of vineyards across the south of France is no longer the producer of plonk, and is now the home of excellent, good-value wines. Vin de Pays d’Oc is a catch-all appellation, but there are some individual names such as Fitou, Minervois and Corbières.

Try: Gérard Bertrand Minervois 2015, Waitrose £9.99

ITALY

The largest producer of wine and now quality has improved, there is much to find there.

In the north west, Piedmont is the home of fabulous Nebbiolo-based Barolo and Barbaresco.

Chianti is the name most people have heard of, and if the Sangiovese grapes come from the heartland of the region it can be called Chianti Classico. Sangiovese changes its name in Brunello di Montalcino and it may also go into some super-Tuscan wines.

Prosecco is the success story of Italy, capturing vast market share with a sweetish, floral fizz at a great-value price.

With a huge array of local grapes, the list of Italian wines is long. These days most of them are well-made and occupy the £5 to £12 price bracket.

Try: Nero d’Avola, Morrisons £6

SPAIN

Third in production terms worldwide with Tempranillo-based Rioja being the one wine that everyone has heard of. This come in several quality grades, usually according to how long it has spent on oak, but there is a push towards lighter flavours and less oak.

Cava is mainly produced in Catalunya, and despite its long, traditional method of production it struggles to climb the price scale in the UK. There are some great-value cavas out there.

Albariño from Galicia is the new darling of the wine shelves. As a category, sherry has been falling out of favour for decades although top-quality sherry is gaining its own fan club.

Try: Martin Codax Albariño 2016, Majestic £13.49

After years of decline, quality sherry sales are up

USA

Producer of vast amounts of easy-drinking wine, and small amounts of top-quality wines. The challenge for the USA is to bridge that gap which is now doing with wines from Sonoma, Mendocino and regions South of the Bay.

Oregon now producing serious Pinots.

Try: Parcel Series Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Majestic £9.99

AUSTRALIA

Back in the 1980’s the Australians changed the way we bought wine. Labelled by grape variety rather than region, we learnt how these grapes taste. We also learnt that they used rather a lot of oak, particularly on their Chardonnays, but all that has changed. They produce good quality wines from cheap and cheerful to serious and complex. Western Australia is growing in reputation for balance and finesse.

Try: Vasse Felix Filius Chardonnay 2016, Western Australia £12.99

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand re-invented Sauvignon Blanc with its fresh, zippy green-edged flavours. This is still the major grape variety, but Pinot Noirs from Marlborough, Martinborough and in particular from Central Otago are grabbing attention. Syrah is growing in style, as is Chardonnay.

Try: Tesco Finest Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016, £12.50

SOUTH AFRICA

This country has gone through a wine revolution in the last 20 years. The vineyards, wines and working conditions have vastly improved. Look for elegant Stellenbosch Cabernets, coastal Chardonnays and complex old vine Chenins and Cinsaults.

Try: Stellenrust Old Bush Vine Cinsault 2016, Waitrose £9.99

CHILE

Great value Cabernets, Sauvignons and even Pinot Noir grab much of the attention but there are new vineyards in cooler areas making leaner, fresher styles. Top quality Cabernets can challenge the top wines of Bordeaux.

Try: Cono Sur Pinot Noir 2017, Sainsbury £7

ARGENTINA

Tucked away in the lee of the Andes, the main vineyards of Argentina are at higher altitudes than most. Cool night-time temperatures and high UV daytime gives deep-flavoured wines, in particular Malbecs.

Try: Tesco Finest Argentine Malbec £7.50

The Rest of the World

It is difficult to consign the great wine producing countries of Germany, Austria, Portugal and Greece to this category, alongside valued producers such as Eastern Europe, Greece, Uruguay, Switzerland and many others. They all make wines of interest.

China is the new kid on the block, now running close behind Australia in production terms. But they are not big in export – yet. Watch this space.

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

Let us know what you think

comments