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Wine regions

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France

Bordeaux

Home to many of the world's finest wines, Bordeaux has many delicious, affordable and sensational offerings.

No region of France has felt the impact of the New World's rise to prominence more than Bordeaux. Claret, the wine the British have supported for generations, has had the unthinkable happen and collectively the region had been slow to react. Renewed focus on quality at all price levels is seen as the key to rebuilding market share and customer loyalty, which means there has never been a better time to buy Bordeaux. Producers such as Dourthe and Calvet are producing supple, upfront whites and reds to rival those from Chile, South Africa and Australia. The vibrant dry whites made from Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon are of consistently high quality and ideal for summer parties.

The Bordeaux region is divided by the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, which flow into the Gironde and out into the Atlantic Ocean. It's a near-perfect location for growing vines, with a warm, sunny climate and the influence of the nearby sea regulating the temperature. On the 'left bank' of the Gironde, the Médoc area makes red wines mainly from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, which grow particularly well on the Médoc's gravelly and well-drained soil. Usually it's blended with one or two other grape varieties, including Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot.

Cabernet Sauvignon makes wines with great structure and ageing potential. The very best wines from the region were classified over 150 years ago and are known as 'Classed Growths'. Across the river, the undulating countryside is home to communes such as Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, and the larger areas of the Côtes de Blaye, Bourg and Castillon. The soil is a mixture of clay, gravel and sand. The area typically enjoys hotter summers than the Médoc. These factors are ideal for growing Merlot, which is usually blended with small percentages of the other red grape varieties. Wines from the 'right bank' tend to age sooner, with softer flavours making them easier to drink when young.

Bordeaux wine buying guide

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Rhône

The Rhône has among the oldest vineyards in France and is the spiritual home of Mediterranean varieties.

The Rhône divides into two distinct areas. The climate is influenced by the warm Mediterranean and is renowned for the Mistral winds. If the Rhône were reclassified it would make sense to split the region in two: from the north come the great wines made of Syrah and Viognier. The reds rank among the more terroir-driven varieties such as the brilliant wines of Alain Graillot and Marcel Guigal. The whites are of limited appeal, apart from Condrieu made on the steep slopes of the village — and these hedonistic wines are best drunk in relative youth.

As one heads south, the hills desperse and the land opens up to a glorious panoramic view of a sea of vines. This is Grenache country. Although many of the wines are based on Grenache blends, they vary hugely in style, depending on region, yield and ageing process. Yes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape still leads the way but there are many satellite regions that offer exceptional value for money. Often Côtes du Ventoux and Côtes du Rhône show extremely well in relative price terms. Reputable producers such as Guigal and Chapoutier can be trusted to make excellent, above-average wines year in, year out. Chapoutier and a number of other Rhône producers are also certified organic — another characteristic of the area.

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Burgundy

Burgundy is the birthplace of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Chablis is the most northerly region, not far from Paris. Travelling south one reaches the Côte d'Or (or Golden Slopes), divided into the Côte de Nuits in the north and the Côte de Beaune in the south.

Heading south the Châlonnais and Mâconnais lead into the pretty Beaujolais region, where Gamay flourishes. Chablis is known for its tight flinty style reflecting its fossil-rich soils. Wines from the Côte de Nuits are mainly red and examples such as Gevrey-Chambertin need time to reveal their truffley, gamey complexities. Further south, the Côte de Beaune produces both red and white wines, and the popularity of white Burgundies such as Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet (expert tip: neither 't' in Montrachet is pronounced) is rapidly increasing. Many growers are grafting their Pinot vines over to Chardonnay to take advantage of this trend. The Châlonnais and Mâconnais make mainly white wines, and the villages of Pouilly, Fuissé, Vinzelles and Montagny have a strong following. Gamay-based wines are enjoying renewed popularity and wines from single Beaujolais villages, or 'Crus', such as Fleurie and Chiroubles, are perfect for summer drinking.

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Loire

The Loire offers a range of wines that suit every mood and occasion. From sparkling rosé to Pouilly-Fumé and Anjou red, the wines have a common character: they are light, delicate, refreshing and charming.

The Loire is France's longest river at more than 1,000 kilometres and vineyards run alongside much of this. The region can be divided into three areas and produces a diverse range of wines.

Nearest the coast, Muscadet is produced from the Melon de Bourgogne grape. It's a refreshing white wine that's fantastic with white fish. Further inland, in the areas surrounding Angers, Saumur and Tours, the white Chenin Blanc grape makes a variety of styles, including dry and medium-dry whites from Anjou, sweet wine from the Coteaux du Layon and a whole spectrum of styles from Vouvray. Red wines are usually made from Cabernet Franc, a fresh and fruity red that goes well with white meats and meatier fish such as tuna.The Central Vineyards are home to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, two classic Sauvignon Blancs with a characteristic aroma of gooseberries. They are a perfect match for the region's other local product, goat's cheese.

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Alsace

From aromatic whites to refreshing light-bodied reds, Alsace offers a wide range of styles.

In the east of France and bordering Germany, Alsace is one of the driest regions of the country, being sheltered from the west by the Vosges mountain range. The climate and a spectrum of more than 20 soil types make it a particularly good location for growing vines. Alsace is renowned for producing aromatic and intense white wines, including Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris. These wines have considerable weight and their fuller flavours will stand up to quite strongly flavoured foods, including Chinese and Thai cuisine, pungent cheeses and smoked fish. Sweeter styles are also produced and are labelled Vendange Tardives (late harvest) or Sélection de Grains Nobles (where only the sweetest grapes are selected). The sweetness and acidity of these wines are in perfect balance.

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South of France

Throughout France a revolution is taking place, yet somehow no single region or group of small regions shows greater determination than the area we term South of France. Stretching across the lower half of France, this area encompasses all that is great about French wine. Diverse climatic variations have helped direct and focus each area to adopt indigenous, native varieties and work them to their advantage. Recently this reliance has been seen to be naive, yet the modern and aspiring consumer is now turning back to these varieties. It is an exciting hunting ground if you want to explore the highways and byways of southern France. The reds are often based on the varieties of the Rhône, while in the east of the country Grenache is king. Further west the Atlantic varieties of Bordeaux have more significance, as with Malbec from Cahors. In whites this translates to exciting blends of Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Muscat, as well as the more international Chardonnays and Sauvignons.

One perceives the region to be hot, yet areas such as Limoux produce great purity and elegance in their wines, perfect for drinking as an apéritif all year round.

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Champagne

Whichever style you choose, Champagne turns an event into a memorable occasion.

Champagne has a unique place in life and is an icon of luxury. It signifies celebrations and special events, and makes a superb choice for a gift.Champagne can only be made in a defined area of France, east of Paris, from a blend of up to three grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir.The style of champagne can vary significantly, and each of the Champagne Houses has their own house style, a formula passed down from generation to generation.

The differences are created by using different percentages of the grape varieties as well as varying production methods and ageing periods. The winemaker will carefully blend the wine to maintain the same house style year in, year out. Champagnes made solely from white grapes (100% Chardonnay) may be labelled Blanc de blancs. When young it has lively, zesty flavours but also the greatest ageing potential. Over time it can develop toasty and biscuity aromas and flavours.

Blanc de noirs is made entirely from black grapes, Pinot Noir and Meunier — ours is, unusually, 100% Pinot Noir. It's a weightier style, and a good choice if accompanying food. Most champagne is a blend of grapes and offers the best of both worlds.

Vintage champagne is only made in the best years, such as 1996, 1998 and 1999, whereas non-vintage is a blend of more than one year, using reserve wines from previous years to add extra flavour. The best champagne is made from grapes grown in the best vineyards, which are classified as Grand Cru, followed by Premier Cru. Most champagne is brut which is bone dry. Demi-sec is medium-dry, and its relative sweetness makes it ideal to accompany rich fruit cakes at weddings and christenings. Rosé champagne derives its pale pink colour from the skins of black grapes. It has hints of red fruits and is a fine match for smoked salmon or sushi.

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Rest of Europe

Italy

Italy is unquestionably the most diverse and exciting wine-producing nation in the world. With 3,000 grape varieties, vast climatic and geological variations, as well as the passionate enterprise of the Italian winemaker, Italy is finally showing its commercial potential. From the foothills of the Alps to the baked, dusty plains of Sicily, every style of dry, medium and sweet, red and white wines is made. It really is a one-stop shop for the wine consumer. The appeal of Italian wine is broadening from the traditional regions of Soave, Chianti, Frascati and Lambrusco.

Pinot Grigio has lost its insipid and fruitless reputation to gain near cult status among white varieties. There are a number of styles at differing prices, yet all appeal in their own right, relying on their purity of fruit rather than oak to charm the consumer. In the north the wines tend to be lighter in body with more acidity. Piedmont is home to Barolo, made from the Nebbiolo grape. It ages well and is a fine partner to red meat dishes. Other reds such as Barbera offer red cherry fruit flavours and a charming elegance. An array of whites is available including Gavi, to which we have added a delicious Roero Arneis.

The Apennine mountains run like a backbone down the middle of Italy. To the west, Tuscany is the home of Chianti, made from the Sangiovese grape. The flatter terrain to the east is ideal for the almond and citrus flavoured Verdicchio grape — a white that's a sublime match for white fish. If looking for value for money the south should be a good hunting ground. The warmer weather provides generous, fruit-driven wines more akin to the New World than the Old. Italy really has something to please every palate — happy discovering!

Italian wine buying guide

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England

Waitrose is the only retailer on the high street to take English wine seriously, and we truly believe in the principle of supporting our local production.

Today, there are more than 1,000 hectares of vines under cultivation in the UK. Vineyards are located throughout the southern half of the country, with the greatest concentration in Kent and Sussex. Even with global warming, England is still a fairly marginal climate with increasingly warm summers.

For the past few years the quality has improved significantly and we are now producing fresh Loire-style wine to floral, delicate Mosel-style wines. The most commonly planted grapes are German varieties like Müller-Thurgau and hybrid varieties such as Seyval Blanc. The best wines have a verdant hedgerow, elderflower and hawthorn blossom perfume that is typical of the country. Chapel Down's Flint Dry is a great example of this style, and other grapes like Bacchus and Ortega are well worth looking out for. Where we do have a chance of being ranked as a world-class wine-making country is in the production of sparkling wines. Undoubtedly, England has a similar soil type and climate to Champagne, and a handful of our top producers are ranked as capable of producing wines of equivalent quality. The Queen has served Nyetimber at Royal banquets.The list of wines that we have put together is not an exhaustive list of all the good wines made in England, but it is a great start — and a fantastic introduction to some of our best producers. Many are supplied to branches that are located within 30 miles of the winery. However, all are now available to order from Waitrose Wine Direct.

Lastly, if your local winery is making some fabulous wines that have not yet crossed our path, please write to us. We'd love to hear from you.

Discover English & Welsh wine

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Germany

Germany is reinventing itself as a fashionable wine-producing nation. There has never been a better time to discover these wonderful wines.

Germany's wine-producing culture is undergoing a transition as it tries to adapt to consumer demand. For a country that relies almost exclusively on white wine, particularly Riesling, it shows an unrivalled ability within the Old World countries to move with the times. The 1970s brought us the often maligned Liebfraumilch era, yet it's the wine that most people have consumed. As preferences shift towards a drier style, Germany has responded with aplomb with brands such as Kendermanns and Naked Grape. These fruit-driven wines are ideal to drink as an apéritif, yet are surprisingly food-friendly too, matching well with spicy Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Mexican dishes.

German wines are often underrated, especially those of higher quality. The estate wines are all made from Riesling, and best expressed in marginal climates between Cologne and the Swiss border. To capture the finesse and purity of this aromatic variety it's often planted on steep slatey slopes overlooking the Mosel or Rhine rivers. These wines range from Kabinett (off-dry), Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese to Eiswein (incredibly sweet). Look out for a number of new additions including a wider selection of Dr Loosen wines, arguably Germany's leading estate. Thankfully, in the last few years the weather has been kind to Germany, resulting in an array of high quality wines — there's never been a better time to discover them.

German wine buying guide

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Spain

Spain has more land under vine than anywhere else in the world and Waitrose sells wine from a wide variety of Spanish regions. Over the last decade the country's wine industry has been transformed by new technology and investment, at the same time retaining its heritage and traditions. The climate varies considerably, with regions affected by proximity to the Atlantic or Mediterranean, with other factors such as altitude and soil type ensuring that each region has its own story to tell. Red wines form the majority of our list, with Rioja its mainstay. Tempranillo is the primary grape, a fruity wine that ages well. Across the River Ebro is the Navarra region, where the deep-coloured Garnacha variety is most popular. Two up-and-coming areas of Spain are Ribera del Duero and Priorat. The former has focused itself on quality rather than quantity, while the latter was only the second region to be awarded the highest quality DOCa classification, after Rioja.

White wines are grown in most regions, but take note of those from Rías Baixas and Rueda. Fresh and aromatic, the Albariño is great with fish, while the Verdejo grape in the Palacio de Bornos will appeal to lovers of Sauvignon Blanc. White Rioja is also produced, from the Viura grape, and has an oaky, creamy style. New to the list this summer is an organic white from La Mancha — a partner to the very successful Gran Lopez Tinto.

Spanish wine buying guide

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Portugal

Although Portugal is known primarily for port, its red and white wines have undergone a transformation in the last 20 years.

The country sets itself apart by specialising in native grape varieties, which are particularly well suited to Portugal's climate and conditions.

The Douro Valley is home to port and many owners of the best estates are using the same grape varieties, including Touriga Nacional, to make full-bodied, fruity reds with port-like flavours. The vines are grown on steep, terraced slopes on the sides of the valley.

Further south, the warmer Alentejo region produces fuller-bodied reds. Here, many producers are embracing New World methods and wine styles, and clearly stating the grape varieties on the labels.

Portugal wine buying guide

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Austria

Austria is gaining a fantastic reputation for its dry white wines and delicious reds made from Blaufränkisch. Its speciality is Grüner Veltliner, a crisp, fresh grape variety with hints of pepper and spice, which provides a refreshing change from the better-known international grape varieties. Austrian Riesling has a taut structure with fine, elegant balance.

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Bulgaria

The once popular 'rough and ready' wines from Bulgaria are now a distant memory. Quality has much improved and the introduction of wines such as Enira has changed consumer perception. Investment, inspiration, expertise and grape varieties have arrived from Bordeaux to produce one of the gems of our entire list.

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Hungary

Hungary has modernised beyond belief in recent years. International grape varieties like Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio are now commonplace, and the use of screwcaps and synthetic corks is prevalent as producers work towards higher quality. Its most famous wine is Tokaji.

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Romania

Similar to Hungary, this Eastern European country is now making wines using modern methods and well-known grape varieties to make easy-drinking, excellent-value wines.

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Greece

The baking hot climate of Greece produces ripe grapes and fruity flavours. Recent improvements are now coming to fruition and there is much investment and innovation taking place.

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Rest of World

Argentina

With the stunning backdrop of the snow-capped Andes, Argentinian vineyards have an enviable location. Well-defined seasons give plenty of summer ripening time, while the melting winter snow provides ample water for irrigation. Its wines are particularly good value and offer a fresh and fruity style designed to be enjoyed while they're still youthful.

The Italian influence introduced red grape varieties from Piedmont and Tuscany into Argentina, namely Barbera, Bonarda and Sangiovese. Their red and black fruit flavours make lively reds. Argentina is home to Malbec and its dark colour gives a hint to its full-bodied, black fruit flavours. An important white grape is Torrontés. Of Spanish origin, it's very aromatic, with floral aromas and dried fruit and passion fruit flavours — making it an ideal choice at mealtimes. The climate has also proved suitable for Chardonnay.

Wines of South America

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Australia

There's much more to Australian wine than full-bodied Shiraz and fruity Chardonnay.

Our range from Oz includes a wide selection of grape varieties and covers a huge spectrum of styles. Despite the size of the country, only a small proportion of the land is planted under vine. This is because the climate is too hot and dry in all but a few areas in the south of the country.The majority of vineyards are located in the states of New South Wales, Victoria, Western and Southern Australia. Prime locations are based on the availability of water, either through rainfall or proximity to rivers for irrigation.

Many sub-regions have their own defining characteristics. In South Australia, Coonawarra is famous for its Terra Rossa soils and produces excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, while the Barossa is known for its Shiraz. Cool-climate regions such as Adelaide Hills, Clare Valley, King Valley, Margaret River and Tasmania are growing trendy aromatic white varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Viognier and Pinot Gris (Grigio). Australia is constantly experimenting and, apart from Rhône blends, many innovative winemakers are adding Mediterranean varieties such as Tempranillo and Sangiovese to their repertoire, either on their own or to add savouriness to a blend. With this amount of choice, it's easy to see why Australian wine is so popular.

Australian wine buying guide

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New Zealand

Renowned for its stunning scenery, clean air and clear skies, New Zealand has made a name for itself with its wines. In the Marlborough region, New Zealand now produces some of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world, but it's also a fine source of other grape varieties. The New Zealand wine industry focuses on quality not quantity and can be relied upon year in, year out. Its white wines are made in an aromatic, fresh and fruity style. Sauvignon Blancs have hints of tropical fruits, while the lime-infused Rieslings are refreshing and slightly off-dry. Pinot Gris has made a big hit as a great food-matching style, while Viognier is starting to be used in blends with Chardonnay. South Island and Martinborough produce world-class Pinot Noir.

Elsewhere, sunny Hawkes Bay is a prime spot for red grapes, with Oyster Bay Merlot a brilliant expression of this variety. Villa Maria's Gewürztraminer is tropical in style and makes an excellent match for oriental cuisine, while its Pinot Gris hints at the next big thing to come from the Land of the Long White Cloud.

New Zealand wine buying guide

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South Africa

Arguably the most exciting New World country, South Africa continues to capture the imagination of the world. The 2010 football World Cup has brought renewed impetus and enthusiasm to this country perched on the southern tip of this great continent. Here, the moderate climate is tempered by the freezing currents of the Atlantic Ocean, which offers unique growing conditions, producing wines of beautiful purity and often surprising elegance. Historically, the Cape regions of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek were famous due to their proximity to Cape Town and the port, yet as the wine nation matures it's the little-known regions of Robertson, Wellington and Swartland that capture the imagination of wine connoisseurs. These areas may not produce wines to rival the best from Stellenbosch, such as Rustenberg, but they offer the winemaker great licence for experimentation. Any number of varieties can adapt with ease to these regions — watch out for Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Grenache, Syrah and many, many more. South Africa is entering a new and exciting era, with numerous new producers and regions being developed. It is certainly our intention to keep discovering this fascinating country.

South African wine buying guide

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California

California is renowned for its hot and sunny climate, but in most locations it would ordinarily be too hot to grow grapes. Fortunately, cooler air is sucked inland from the Pacific Ocean and creates a series of microclimates perfect for the vines. The best wine-growing areas are just north of San Francisco, including Napa Valley, Carneros, Sonoma Valley and Mendocino.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay are all grown with aplomb, with the hot temperature and sunny days ensuring ripe grapes and fruity wines. Plantings of Pinot Noir are increasing, and other reds such as Cabernet Franc and Shiraz are gaining in popularity. California is home to Zinfandel. It's a close relative of Italy's Primitivo and produces a full-bodied red with blackcurrant flavours and hints of pepper and spices.

California wine buying guide

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Chile

Chilean wine is renowned for its pure fruit aromas and great value for money.

This country's diverse range of wines keeps getting better and better. It's blessed with near-perfect conditions for cultivating vines. The Pacific Ocean brings relatively low humidity and the rivers running down from the Andes provide water for irrigation. The Mediterranean-style climate provides long, dry summers and the soils are extremely fertile.The principal vineyards are located in eight valleys. Furthest north, the hot Aconcagua Valley ripens Cabernet Sauvignon to perfection, while the adjacent Casablanca Valley is a little cooler and suits Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Leyda Valley is a tiny, up-and-coming region that's producing top-notch Sauvignon Blanc.

The Central Valley area encompasses the Maipo, Rapel and Colchagua Valleys. Here, much red wine is produced, including Carmenère, a forgotten Bordeaux variety that Chile has turned into its own speciality. Well-made, quality wines that are full of clean fruit typify this country.

Wines of South America

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Lebanon

We only list one wine from Lebanon but it's worth noting. Château Musar is produced in the renowned Bekaa Valley, where the extremely hot climate virtually 'bakes' the red grapes to produce a characteristic cooked fruit flavour. This wine is now a cult in itself, and offers great ageing potential too.

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Mexico

Although we only list one Mexican wine, it's more than worthy of its place. It is grown in an area on the west coast called Baja California, just south of the border with the United States. The area is extremely hot, but cooling breezes and mists resulting from the cold Alaskan current make it an ideal location.

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Uruguay

The Uruguayan wine we have selected is produced just north of Montevideo. Here the influences and traditions are not from neighbouring Argentina (or Chile) but from France. More than 30% of vineyards are planted with the Tannat grape, also found in Madiran (a small region in South-West France). Conditions are good for Merlot too.

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Brazil

The vast majority of vines are grown between 30° and 50° latitude, where the climate is most suitable. However, there are exceptions, such as the Vale do São Francisco. Without any winter season, vine growing is continuous and the vine cycle is controlled by irrigation. Unusually, each vine gives two crops a year.

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