The Globalization of Wine

There is a lot of talk these days about the globalization of wine. Some wine people are up all night tossing and turning, worried about that sometime in the distant future, all wines will taste alike, assuming there could ever be such a thing as a “universal” taste.

Globalization of wine sets me off in another direction — the amazing growth of international commerce in wine in this generation. Not that international wine trade is something new. The Greeks, as in many things, did a wonderful job 2,000 years ago planting vines and spreading wine culture. The Greek trade in wine was surprisingly extensive. There was a system of appellations to ensure the origin of the best wines so that customers of Greek wines knew where the wine came from. Large stores of wine travelled wherever Greek ships travelled — and that was all over the known world. We even know from ancient records where the best wines came from. So, the Greeks developed the kind of Epicurean consciousness that is now also part of the modern wine mind.

I’ve always believed that this globalization, or internationalization of wine has caused great competition, which is always good for the development of wine and our wine industry.

Let’s take as a starting point, the famous Paris tasting of 1978. What this well- publicized event demonstrated was not just that California wines topped French ones on one particular day in time. The large far-reaching picture was that given the right soil and climate, fine winemaking and good technical skills, France was not the only country that could make great wines.  This message inspired winemaking in many countries.

One notable example — the wines of Italy. Not so long ago, most United States wine consumers thought of Italian wines as the rather rough, thin inexpensive wines in straw flasks with the Chianti on the label. Now, what has happened in Italy has been phenomenal and not just in Tuscany. Today, a top level wine merchant will have well over 200 Italian red wines ranging from excellent Falesco wines under $10 to a line of highly regarded wines from Gaja, some of which command prices close to $300 a bottle.

Today, fine Italian wines are not restricted to the Northern districts. Excellent wines are being enjoyed from Sicily to Puglia, Campania and points south. Italian grape varietals that in the past “got no respect” are now flourishing stars under new and expert hands — Nero d’Avola and Sagrantino are just two examples

Two more recent examples from South America are worth noting. The United Kingdom is a great wine consumer and therefore is a good barometer when it comes to imports. In order to climb aboard the wine train, Chile and Argentina had to do a quality turn-around, which has been accomplished and continues to grow. Just a few years ago, you would be hard pressed to find any selection of wines from these countries,   Now, 40 or more wines would be the norm with fine wines at really good values.

The Australian wine industry has had a similar renaissance. In the past, the few Australian wines to hit our market were, for the most part, inexpensive. Today, wineries such as d’Arenberg, Clarendon Hills, Pennfolds, Elderton Ashmead and Henshke are producing world class red wines that the world is now enjoying.

Lastly, Spain. As the international wine expert Robert Whitley recently wrote, “From Priorat to the Penedes to Rijoa to the Ribera del Duero to Toro to the Rias Baixas, a renaissance in wine production is sweeping Spain. On a recent trip to Madrid, I tasted several wines I had never heard of made from grapes I had never heard of from regions I had never heard of.”  

Where will this all end? I am not sure, as a wine lover it may be a bit confusing at first, but it sure is deliciously interesting! Now, I may enjoy a great late harvest wine from — Canada. Oh, yes!

By Ed Schwartz.