Europe has long been the originating source for modern wine culture, with its leading wine merchants representing some of the premium producers in the world; European wines tend to rely on traditional methods, and on seals of quality that make them among the best selling in the world. Established regions like Champagne and Burgundy in France are also subject to strict regulations to protect their quality. While Europe’s long held status as the home of the world’s best wines was shaken in the 20th century by the emergence of rivals such as Australia, the United States, South Africa, and Argentina, its status as the birthplace of modern wine is undeniable. Who, then, are the top wine producing countries in Europe?
The sheer versatility and variety of wines in France arguably allows it to claim to be the most historically significant wine producer in the world. As well as champagne from Champagne, and Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux, or Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France is home to excellent white wine growing conditions in Alsace. While France has had to adjust to global competition for wine production, its classic terroir methods and tight regulations on quality means that you can still find much of the best wine available in French vineyards.
Like France, Italy has a long history of wine making that stretches back thousands of years; well established wine growing regions include Piedmont, Tuscany, and Veneto, while key vintages include Chianti and Brunello. Italian wines account for billions of sales a year, with the country’s rich Mediterranean climate allowing for deep bodied reds to be a speciality – Italy’s high production rate also means that it’s one of the most competitive countries for wine pricing.
Tempranillo, Rioja, and Ribera wines are among the specialties of Spanish wine production, which while never on the same scale as France or Italy, is still significant. Indeed, Spain’s lower yields compared to these countries is partly down to wider spacing of rows in vineyards, and a focus on high quality vintages, of which there are 400 in the country. Spain is also home to world class Cava and sherries.
While Portugal is traditionally associated with the invention of port and other dessert wines, its production of a variety of wines makes it one of the best in Europe. Portugal’s association with wine making has been helped by its joining of the EU in the 1980s, and by its tendency towards under cutting competitors on price, with the US market being a key target. Popular wines from Portugal include roses, dry wines, and always popular dessert wines.
The appeal of German wines tends to be more focused on a few excellent vintages and grapes than the scale of other European countries; the Baden region in Germany produces Pinot Noirs with low acidity, while Rieslings account for some of German wine makers’ most popular exports. Germany’s climate is similar to France’s, meaning that vintages such as Scheurebe and Gewurtzraminer can compete in terms of quality.
Emily Steves is a food and wine writer who regularly contributes to a range of food and drink websites and blogs. She loves drinking a quality white wine on her patio while watching the sun go down.