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Intro to European Wines

European wines are fundamentally different from “New World” (i.e. non-European) wines, because they have had a 2000+ year head start compared to everywhere else.

This has led to the concepts that we talked about with terroir, otherwise seen as having just the right grape grown in just the right place. You combine that with evolution of the food and cuisine of a particular spot, and you end up with food and wine affinities that are second to none.

Understanding the ‘big three’ of France, Italy, and Spain obviously involves different wine courses (thought the books you have will do a great job at giving you basic information). However, we can generalize a bit:

FRANCE is the historic and spiritual home of wine in many ways. They weren’t the first to make wine, but they have become the most important country of origin. If I asked you to name ten grape varieties, odds are good at least nine would be French (Zinfandel, the outlier, is actually from Croatia). The wines of France represent tradition in the best sense of the word.

ITALY is all about food and wine pairing. The wines of Italy tend to be acid-driven, so a little plate of cheese or cured meat goes a long way to enjoying those wines to the fullest. The wines of Italy are often made with grape varieties that are found only there, making it immensely confusing for the starting wine drinker. Don’t approach Italian wine trying to memorize the grapes! There are over 2000 of them!

SPAIN had its own share of problems for millennia, and for most of the 20th century they were under the thumb of a dictator that kept the wines of Spain internal and kept the wines of the world out. Also kept out was modern winemaking thoughts and technology. The result was that in 1974 they were making wine like it was 1874. However, after joining the European Union in 1986, Spain (as well as Portugal) have rocketed forward in their modern winemaking and now Spain represents some of the top values in the world of wine.

More links for learning

An overview of the wines of France.

An overview of the wines of Italy.

An overview of the wines of Spain.

Wine Folly: The Real Difference Between Old World and New World Wines