Greetings from the Pocket Concierge Editorial Team!
Today, we will continue where we left off last time, and talk a little bit more in depth about wine.
This article will feature the many wine-producing regions of the world, the characteristics of the wines they produce, and additionally, a recently surgent form of enjoyment of this ancient drink.
We hope you stay with us through the journey to the end!
1. Review; Notes from the Last Episode of ‘All About Wine’
2. All About Wine; Characteristics of Wines, by Origin
3. What is Wine Pairing?
Review; Notes from the Last Episode of ‘All About Wine’
First, let us briefly review what we learned in the article before;
・Wine is said to have been first made in ancient Mesopotamia
・Wine is, similar to Beer and Japanese Sake, an alcoholic beverage produced via fermentation
・Wine grapes are different from grapes to be eaten as fruit, or table grapes (although there are some wines made from table grapes)
・’Red, white, and champagne’ are not the only types of wine
In the previous article, we learned about the above, the basics of what wine is. In today’s feature, we will conduct a basic debriefing of the various major wine-producing regions of the world; for those who would like to know in more detail, there is a whole world of incredible books on the topic of wine left to be discovered!
All About Wine; Characteristics of Wines, by Origin
When talking of wine, it is near impossible to not talk about the country of France; parent to some of the world’s most renowned, revered, and infamous bottles, the country is home to every wine-lover’s pilgrimage sites in Bourgogne and Bordeaux. From this unneglectable source, we will take a look at Bordeaux, Bourgogne, and Champagne.
Bordeaux lies in the Gironde department, a part of the Aquitaine region of southwest France that borders its southern neighbor, Spain. Bordeaux city, the capital of both Gironde and Aquitaine, is a port city by the Gironde Estuary; the famous Bordeaux wine region is spread out on the banks of this estuary and the rivers that flow into it, hence wines produced in the Gironde area bear the crown ‘Made in Bordeaux’.
Bordeaux has the highest number of preserved historical buildings of any city in France excepting Paris, including 3 listed as UNESCO world heritage sites as part of the ‘Routes of Santiago de Compostela’; as a stop on this historic pilgrimage route stretching across France and into Spain, Bordeaux is home to many beautiful cathedrals.
Bordeaux wine is frequently mentioned as the ‘Queen of Wine’. The red wines produced in the region are admired for their silky smoothness, delicate balance, and deep yet graceful feminine nature. The producers of Bordeaux, often large-scale estates and wineries called ‘chateaux’, create this masterful harmony by blending several types of grapes; the bottles are then branded by ‘chateau’, as opposed to any individual’s name.
Hailing from mid-east France, Bourgogne wine is produced in the Cote-d’Or department of the Bourgogne region. The area is named for the ‘slopes of gold’ spanning the fruitful hilly lands along the Saone river between Dijon and Lyon.
A bit of a side note, but former Japanese National Team player Daisuke Matsui used to play for Dijon FCO, one of the region’s major athletic teams.
【Gastronomic Capital of the World】
Dijon, capital of the Bourgogne region, is world-renowned as a Gastronomic centre. In addition to mustard, which famously crowns the city’s name as namesake, Dijon is also known to have been first in the world to create escargot, beef bourguignon (red wine beef stew), and others. The city also hosts an yearly International Gastronomic Fair, a testament to its historical place in the upper echelons of cuisine.
Bourgogne, unlike Bordeaux, is well known for producing single-variety wines, as in wines of a single grape type. The most widely used grapes are ‘Pinot Noir’ for red wines, and ‘Chardonnay’ for whites. Further notable is Bourgogne’s tendency towards small and individual farmer-wineries; hence, many Bourgogne wines are named not by chateau, but rather by terroir, the plot of land where the grapes used were produced. The DRC Romanee-Conti, one of the world’s most sought-after labels and a bottle once jokingly said to ‘be talked of ever more than drunk’, is made here in Bourgogne.
Champagne-Ardenne, a region of northeast France bordering Belgium on the east end of the Paris Basin, is the home of the famous champagne. Although common wisdom says the latitude be slightly too high for wine grape production, a warm climate lends to the enabling of a unique wine-production, namely that of its namesake.
By far, the region’s most prevalent wine is the world’s favorite sparkling, champagne. Designated by law, champagne may only be produced using wine grapes harvested in the Champagne region, a ‘traditional method’ process with double in-bottle fermentation, and at least 15 months of aging on the lees. Only then can this French sparkling wine be labeled with the cultural icon of ‘champagne’.
Just a footnote, but the originator of this ‘traditional method’ of champagne production you may not know, but are likely to have heard of; the monk Dom Pierre Perignon has been immortalized in the modern age by the prestigious brands of his own creation.
Image: AZUR et MASA UEKI|Pocket Concierge
A genius of French cuisine and winemaking unite, creating an impressionistic haute-French experience for the ages. Chef Masahito Ueki concocts French dishes infused with Japanese spirit, and exquisite wines, a selection from the decorated Julien Fayard’s Azur Winery, provide for the perfect mariage.
The #1 wine-producing and wine-drinking country in the world, Italy is another country irreplaceable in the world of wine. Helped by its Mediterranean climate, the entirety of the peninsular country is apt for wine production, leading to a hoard of diverse wines from throughout its lands. Classically, Italian wine, like the nature of its people, was free, joyful, and varied; the modernization of the Italian wine scene however changed this unique yet table-wine centric industry. Designation of wine laws led to the extinction of the lawless and disorderly, ushering in a new age of distinct yet quality wines garnering international respect.
Regarding taste, Italian wines are quite diverse; however, as a tendency, they tend lean towards fruity and sweet, with less of an emphasis on acerbic tannins.
From its capital, the medieval stronghold of the infamous Medici family and ‘City of Arts’ Florence, to fellow Renaissance-era culture hub Sienna and the tourism magnet Pisa, the region of Tuscany is studded with some of Italy’s biggest cultural attractions.
The landscape and climes, suitable for wine-grapes, bears much fruit, birthing wines such as the famed and widely-enjoyed chianti in its notable circular bottle, as well as other spice-toned red wines. In particular, the ‘Super Tuscan’ labels have gained wide acclaim in recent decades; by purposely ignoring the wine laws, micro-producers succeeded in creating unique and incredible wines using revolutionary methods and blends. Some ‘Super Tuscan’ wines, despite being ranked in the lowest group by law, have gained massive followings and eminent reviews from the most respected authors, overcoming common wisdom and taking the world by surprise.
In northwest Italy, bordering its fellow wine-loving neighbor France, is Piedmont. The capital, Turin, may still be fresh on some people’s minds as the site of the 2006 Winter Olympics. Others may know the area as the home to automaker Fiat, or perhaps Italy’s decorated football club, the trice-repeating champions of Serie A, Juventus FC.
Given its proximity to France, Piedmont’s cuisine shows influence from the border.
Image: Il Giotto|Pocket Concierge
Chef Naofumi Takahashi’s standalone home-restaurant serves savoury char-grilled aged-beef specialties, but also boasts an extensive wine selection; Il Giotto’s list, Italian labels hand-picked by the chef himself, includes 60 whites and a whopping 100 reds of seasonal mariage material.
Spain is the world’s #3 wine producer; with an abundance of land basking in the Mediterranean clime, it boasts a massive amount of productive capability with its own approach to winemaking. Just as the country and population’s thematic color, red, Spain’s wine production is more often than not of the same color. Especially in recent years, thanks to the advent of quality focused producers, Spanish wines, led by prominent so-called ‘Super Spanish’ labels, have jumped to a new level.
The northern province of La Rioja, and especially the banks of the Ebro River Valley, is where the best of Spain’s red wines are born; helped by plentiful rain, agreeable summer rays, and a generally warm winter, the area boasts a near-perfect climate for grapes with a good balance of sweet and sour. The region’s wines are overwhelmingly red, with less than a quarter of production being white; suitable for aging as well, Rioja reds are noted for their silky feel and spicy aroma, often exhibiting sublime barrel tones.
Located in coastal northeastern Spain, in the autonomous region of Catalonia, is Penedes; unlike the colors of the Catalonian capital of Barcelona, Penedes, located on the Ebro River Delta, is known as the origins of Spain’s ‘cava’, a sparkling wine made using the ‘champagne method’. Contrasted with La Rioja and its famous reds, the region is on occasion penned ‘Penedes of whites’.
Andalusia, a swath of land spanning the south of Spain, has a claim to fame as the point of origin of ‘sherry’, one of the world’s most famous fortified wines. Sherry is produced by adding brandy to the base wine post-fermentation, and aging the mixture so as to heighten the alcohol content and preservability of the resulting beverage.
Image: Restaurant Sant Pau|Pocket Concierge
Nihonbashi is packed with fine-dining outlets, but Restaurant Sant Pau, with its 2-starred Catalan-innovative menu, is hard to match; the kitchen serves delicate seasonals brimming with the flavors of Catalonia, well accompanied by the rich and fiery spirited wines of the Spanish country.
Located on the coastal west end of the Iberian peninsula, Portugal is home to a warm Mediterranean climate well befitting grape production. In particular, the fortified wines ‘port’ and ‘madeira’ are world-renowned.
Douro River Valley
The Douro River Valley of Portugal’s north is known for producing high-quality white wine-grapes; the resulting spicy whites and highly acclaimed sweet port-wines are a major factor in this small country’s place in wine lore. Port, one of the world’s most highly regarded fortified wines, is made in a manner not unlike Spain’s famous sherry; by adding brandy to the base wine in the midst of fermentation, residual sugars are kept at a higher level than other wines, thus leading to a uniquely sweet wine.
The Madeiras, a set of islands off the shore of northwest Africa, is better known as the birthplace of superstar footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. However, for the better part of its history, it was widely famed as the birthplace of ‘madeira’, a fortified wine that is alongside ‘port’ and ‘sherry’ one of the world’s 3 major fortified wines, a drink commonly enjoyed as an aperitif or digestif.
While many may imagine Germany’s soul-drink to be beer, Europe’s largest economy is also a major wine producer. Famous for its white wines, Germany’s production is centered in its southern provinces due to its chilly climate. Germany, similar to Alsace in neighboring France, is renowned for its fruity and sweet whites; however, in recent years, there has been an advent of spicy white wines in the region as well. Given the country’s traditional focus on quality over quantity, unlike other locations where bottles can be hit-or-miss, German wines are constantly fail-free and delicious.
Other Notable Wine-Producing Areas of the World
Summing Up; All About Wine
Regarding the many origins of wine, this is all for now. But of course, with this much variety in background, region, and taste, it may be difficult to choose which wine to drink. Further exacerbating this is the impression that wine is a high-class and inapproachable luxury. To alleviate this, for those of you hoping to enjoy wine nonetheless, we recommend ‘wine pairing’ as a way to approach and befriend the most ancient of alcohols known to man.
What is Wine Pairing?
Wine ‘pairing’ is the art of selecting a wine to match the meal at hand, as well as an individual guest’s taste, the season, temperature, and overall environment. Sommeliers, professionals of wine, will at request be more than happy to answer your needs; ask them for recommendations, tell them your needs, and you will for sure find a sublime ‘mariage’. Some merits of asking for a pairing are as follows:
・Enjoyment of a ‘mariage’ of course and wine without professional knowledge
・Less time spent staring at a wine list trying to decipher its contents
・Opportunity to taste a variety of different wines, instead of your basic go-to label
・Ability to select wines according to various factors, including price-line
Wine pairing allows the wine-curious seasoned and unseasoned alike to enjoy from a sommelier’s deeply knowledgeable perspective the beauty of wine alone and with companion. It is a fail-proofed way to good wine, as well as a time-saver; no more wasted minutes in attempting to understand the wine list full of alien titles in vain, and that much more time to enjoy smooth and uninterrupted conversation with your partner at the table. For the gourmet-conscious epicures out there, wine pairing is an easy way to enjoy the restaurant experience more fully; and while traditionally a European custom, in recent years, the practice as gained increased renown here in Japan as well, so do try asking the next time you see a tough wine list!
We have, over the past two articles, gone over the basics of wine. And as we have learned, wines vary greatly depending on a variety of factors, especially region and the natural habitat. However, we at Pocket Concierge believe that true enjoyment of wine can only be through actual consumption, not that of letters and words. So while we hope our articles are of use to our visitors, if you, upon reading, decide to try some wines ‘outside-the-box’ for you, or even better, decide to ask a nearby professional for some help, and if that leads to a new discovery and pleasant experience, that would make us all supremely happy.
Lastly, Pocket Concierge, our online booking service, serves hundreds of restaurants with wine-pairing options; we sincerely hope these will be of use to you!
Also, for the curious, we have released our Pocket Concierge service in iPhone application form! For first-class gourmet booking on-the-go, download from here.
Thank you very much for staying with us through this article, part 2 of our journey through wine. If you enjoyed the read, we would be grateful if you could share it to your fellow gourmands!