A Journey in Wine: The Wines of New Zealand

The distinctive aromas of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will immediately capture your full attention when you try it for the first time. It’s the country’s flagship wine for a good reason, but there is plenty more to discover. Even though New Zealand produces only 1 percent of the world’s wine, that wine has an international reputation amongst wine experts and wine lovers worldwide. 

New Zealand’s Wine in a Nutshell

New Zealand has ten wine-producing areas across the North and South Island. These areas cover 1,600 kilometres, with no vineyard more than 120 kilometres from the ocean. 

The country has a cool, maritime climate, though the North Island is slightly warmer than the South. The combination of long sunshine-filled days, cooling sea breezes at night, and a long ripening period results in ripe, flavourful grapes that still retain a great deal of acidity.

Since the 1980s, New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blancs have put the country on the global wine map. These wines are aromatic, with aromas of freshly cut grass, citrus, gooseberry, and passionfruit. While the white grape accounts for two-thirds of the country’s wine production, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Noir also thrive. Let’s have a closer look at the country’s winemaking history and regions. 

How Did New Zealand Become a Premier Wine-Producing Country?

Although the earliest records of Vitis vinifera (vine) plantings in New Zealand date back to 1819, the first recorded wine is from the 1840s. British resident and oenologist James Busby had success growing grapes, others quickly followed suit across the country. In the 1940s, their efforts went to waste when the phylloxera louse destroyed many vineyards. The decision to replant with hardier Vitis labrusca vines resulted in poor quality wines, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that Vitis vinifera grape varieties made a comeback. Until the 1980s, Müller Thurgau was the widest planted white grape, and Cabernet Sauvignon for red. This all changed in the 1980s when Sauvignon Blanc burst onto the scene. 

A glass of sauvignon blanc in front of a New Zealand vineyard

Sauvignon Blanc: New Zealand’s Star Variety 

In the early 1980s, Sauvignon Blancs from the Marlborough region came onto the global wine scene, and the quality blew everybody away. It was a Sauvignon Blanc that nobody had ever experienced before, bursting with aromas of freshly cut grass, citrus, gooseberry, and grapefruit, and extremely mouthwatering. The Sauvignon Blanc from Cloudy Bay Vineyards received critical acclaim. This zingy style quickly became fashionable worldwide.

What Other Grape Varieties Grow in New Zealand?

For white grape varieties, Sauvignon Blanc is followed by Chardonnay. Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer are planted in smaller quantities. 

As for red grapes, Pinot Noir reigns supreme, followed by plantings of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. 

Overview of New Zealand Wine Regions

Because New Zealand’s ten growing regions extend 1,600 kilometres, there’s a lot of regional diversity, resulting in a variety of wine styles.

New Zealand’s North Island

From subtropical in the north to semi-maritime in the south, New Zealand’s North Island is known for a variety of grapes and wine styles. Northland, Auckland, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa are the main growing regions here. Wairarapa’s Pinot Noirs have come to the fore as their flagship reds. The region’s warm days and cool nights make it a perfect place to grow Pinot, and growers here have shown that they can produce wines with a distinctive character and style that often seems to straddle the Old World and the New. The North Island is also home to Bordeaux blends and Syrahs, most notably from Hawke’s Bay, the second-largest wine-growing region, as well as creamy Chardonnays.

Taste the Country: Paddy Borthwick Pinot Noir

Marlborough vineyard landscape

New Zealand’s South Island

The South Island is cooler, with a maritime climate. It is known for its high sunshine, low rainfall and free-draining soils. Nelson, Marlborough, North Canterbury, Waitaki Valley, and Central Otago are the regions from north to south, and it’s mostly the cool climate grape varieties that thrive here. Marlborough is the country’s largest and most famous wine region, planted mainly with Sauvignon Blanc. Central Otago is the most southerly wine-growing region in the world and the only region with a continental rather than a maritime climate. The area is home to marvellous Pinot Noirs.

Central Otago vineyard

New Zealand’s Wine Industry Today

Focus on Sustainability

Working sustainably is key to New Zealand’s wine industry. 96 Percent of the country’s vineyard area currently falls under the Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand certification programme (SWNZ) – considering the cool maritime climate, this is quite impressive! SWNZ members adhere to guidelines for sustainable practices in the vineyard and winery. The industry strives to be carbon neutral by 2050. 

Winemaking Innovations

Since New Zealand is a relatively young winemaking country, there’s been a spirit of pioneering and innovation. The country is known for its advances in canopy management, cool stainless steel fermentation techniques and screwcaps.

Most vineyards have an open leaf canopy, where winegrowers strip away leaves to let sunlight get direct access to the fruit, making grapes fully ripe and intensely flavoured. Most Sauvignon Blanc is fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks to preserve the wine’s aromatic intensity and freshness.

In 2001, Kiwi winemakers were the first to embrace screwcaps on a large scale. It turned out that the closures worked great for preserving aromatics and freshness in wine (hello again, fruity Sauvignon Blancs!). Today, a whopping 95 percent of New Zealand wines are bottled with a screwcap – which has proven to allow the same bottle aging as a traditional cork – although it may take longer.

Love discovering the world of wine? Here at WineCollective, we always share our discoveries and rare finds with our members. Join us as we explore uncharted territories and discover wonderful grape varieties and unusual blends. 

A Journey in Wine: The Wines Of Chile

Chile is the seventh largest wine producer in the world today. Stretching for over 4000 kilometres along South America’s western edge, it’s a thin but elongated country between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The wine regions from north to south are classified into regions, as well as three larger growing zones: Costa (cooler coastal areas), Entre Cordilleras (warmer inland valleys) and Los Andes (mountainous regions). Let’s have a closer look at the wonderful wines of Chile.

How Did Chile Become a Wine-Producing Country?

The Chilean wine industry was heavily influenced by the French. When the phylloxera louse wiped out European vineyards in the 19th century, unemployed French winemakers migrated to Chile, bringing their grape varieties and know-how. They were optimistic about Chile’s climate and terroir, and it was their influence that shaped Chile’s wine market toward Bordeaux varieties. It wasn’t until the 1990s that much of the “Merlot” grown in the country was identified as Carménère- a nearly extinct grape variety of French origin.

What Grape Varieties Grow in Chile?

Chile grows predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but its “signature” grape truly is Carménère. Carménère is related to Cabernet Franc, and does so well in Chile because of its long, sunny growing season. It produces full-bodied reds, high in tannins. Don’t be surprised to come across other grape varieties, though! You’ll also find Pinot Noir, Syrah, and País (a native grape variety) as red grape varieties, and Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier as white grape varieties.

Overview of Chilean Wine Regions

Chile’s vineyards can be found over a range of 900 kilometres from north to south. The wine regions are divided into principal regions and sub-regions. In 2012, an additional classification was announced, based on their distance from the coast. Costa has coastal influences, Entre Cordilleras is a strip of land that runs between the Andes and the coastal valleys, and Los Andes are the mountainous vineyards. Let’s dive a little deeper into these zones and what each of them entails.

Costa – Chile’s Coastal Influence

The Costa area is the coastal strip of valleys that sit along Chile’s extensive shoreline – it’s over 4000 kilometres long! It was thought that Chilean wines flourished best on its plains and steep mountainous areas, but this all changed when Casablanca Valley wine made its debut in the early 1980s. Some other popular regions in the Costa zone include the Aconcagua region, which envelopes the Aconcagua, San Antonio, and Casablanca Valleys, the Coquimbo region with Elqui and Limarí Valleys, the Central Valley region with Rapel, Curicó and Maule Valleys and finally the South region with the Itata Valley. 

While the coastline is significant, its effects on winemaking depend on the changing and cooling Humboldt Current. This current moves northward and cools the sea and neighbouring areas. It usually causes fogging that then shield the areas from the sun. This periodic fogging allows the grapes to ripen properly.

The coastline also affects the taste of the grapes, as the maritime influence adds minerality or a certain saltiness that comes from the soil being so close to the sea. 

The wines from Chile’s coastal areas are usually fruit-forward with a delicious acidity that makes them balanced and elegant. 

A great example is the Casa Viva Cabernet Sauvignon from the Casablanca Valley. 

Entre Cordilleras – Generous Chilean plains

Although most of the Entre Cordilleras area consists of flatlands, it is wrong to assume that the whole region is entirely flat. From east to west, the plains are covered with mountains and rivers that constitute a rich and diverse terroir responsible for over 60 percent of Chilean wine production. 

With Entre Cordilleras in the middle of the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, the area receives a cooling influence from both. This allows growers to ripen Merlot grapes and even the rare and finicky Petit Verdot. Some popular regions in the Entre Cordilleras zone include the Aconcagua region with the Aconcagua Valley, the Central Valley region with Maipo, Curicó, Rapel and Maule Valleys, and finally, the South region with the Itata, Bió-Bió and Malleco Valley. 

Chilean wine received a boost when Spanish winemaker Miguel Torres arrived in the mountainous areas of the Curicó Valley in the early 1980s. He modernized wine production, making fresh and fruity wines. Many winemakers followed suit, giving wine exports a real boost. In the same region, further south, wineries in Cauquenes and San Javier are leading the charge to revive old vines to produce wine with a great expression of their region. A great example is the Santa Ema Select Terroir Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon which really allows Isla de Maipo to shine!

Los Andes – Chile’s Mountainous Vineyards

Nearly half of the entire range of Chile is covered in mountains, which affects everything in the country, including the wine. The Andes’ influence on climate is a large one. In the north, the Andes work with the cold Humboldt current to prevent cloud formation, reducing rainfall. In addition, the size and altitude of the Andes have also prevented diseases and pests such as phylloxera that have destroyed other vineyards around the world.

The Andes Mountains also form air masses that drop down into the valleys during the day. The ventilation and moving air currents provide a significant variation between the daytime and nighttime temperatures. This is important for the grapes to show off their characteristics. The terrain also plays an important role, with rockier areas providing more drainage and clay and soil material deposited alongside the mountain slopes and riverways.

The Andes region is well-known for some of the most renowned Chilean wines. The area produces wines with structure, great balance and character. A great example to try is the Haras De Pique Galantas, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Carménère.

The Chilean Wine Industry Today

Due to its altitude, mountainous areas, and government involvement, Chile has remained phylloxera-free, and vines don’t need to be grafted onto Phylloxera-resistant rootstocks. Chile remains isolated, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Andes Mountains on the other. The Quinta Normal Agriculture, a set of agricultural norms dating from 1841, regulates all grape-based agriculture and makes an effort to ensure no infested soil and vines are imported from other countries. Today Chile has some of the oldest vines with Vitis vinifera rootstock. 

Chile’s dry climate makes it a perfect country to produce organic, biodynamic and sustainable wine. 75 Percent of all exported Chilean wine is, in fact, sustainably produced. The Chilean Wine Industry Sustainability Code is a voluntary standard that guides wineries in the challenge of working as sustainably as possible.

With the abundance of different types of terrain and the versatility of the land and climate in Chile, it is possible to make many different wine styles.

With the coastal regions best suited for cooler climate grapes, the inland valleys are known for their soft Bordeaux blends. The high-elevation and climates of the Andes area create wines that have greater structure and character, and so it is not surprising that winemakers are beginning to go back to the basics in an attempt to play around with these characteristics to create more natural and organic wines. 

An interesting example is De Martino, employing the terracotta amphorae, returning to the rural and original winemaking traditions. They’ve even forgone the use of enzymes and certain yeasts, allowing the sugars and microbes in the grapes to ferment unaided with minimal intervention. 

Here at WineCollective, we make sure to share our discoveries and rare finds with our members. Join us as we explore uncharted territories and discover wonderful grape varieties and unusual blends. 

What’s In A Grape? Primitivo

Primitivo (pronounced pree-muh-tee-vow) is a red wine grape most commonly grown in Puglia, the heel of the boot-shaped part of Italy. If you love Californian Zinfandel, then this is the grape for you! Why? Because Primitivo is actually the exact same grape as Zinfandel, the only difference being where the grape is grown. Let’s take a closer look at this unique, full-bodied grape (it’s one of our favourites).

Here’s what you’ll find in this article:

What is Primitivo?
Is Primitivo the Same as Zinfandel?
What Does Primitivo Taste Like?
Where is Primitivo Grown?
Three Styles of Primitivo from Puglia
What to Pair with Primitivo?
How to Choose a Good Primitivo

What is Primitivo?

Primitivo is a variety of Italian red wine grape that produces full-bodied, fruit-forward wines with tannins that will make your mouth pucker. Contrary to what it suggests, the name Primitivo doesn’t actually translate to “primitive,” but means “early ripening” or “early one” – because the grapes tend to ripen earlier than most other varieties grown in Italy.

The berries ripen unevenly, so the bunches must be left on the vine for the grapes to fully ripen. This results in high sugar in the grapes and ultimately, a relatively high alcohol content in the wine.

Did you know?

Tempranillo also means “early ripening,” but in Spanish.

Is Primitivo the Same as Zinfandel?

Yes, Primitivo is the same grape as Zinfandel. Primitivo is the name for the grape when it is grown in Italy, and Zinfandel is the name for the same grape when it is grown in California. Interestingly, the grape didn’t originate in Italy or California, but in Croatia! 

The Primitivo grape was brought from Croatia to Italy in the 18th century, where it found its new home in Puglia. In the 19th century, the grape made another voyage, this time to America, where it was rebranded as “Zinfandel.” In California, Primitivo grapes are also used to make “White Zinfandel” – a popular sweet rosé.

Did you know?

Primitivo (aka. Zinfandel) has other names too! In Croatia, it is known as Crljenak Kaštelanski and as Tribidrag. And in Montenegro, it’s called kratošija. Try saying “Crljenak Kaštelanski” (pronounced tsurl-ye-nak kas-tel-yanskee) three times fast!

What Does Primitivo Taste Like?

Primitivo wines tend to be high in alcohol content and contain ripe, sweet tannins! It is a big, bold grape known for flavours ranging from jammy and ripe dark berry flavours, like blueberry and blackberry, to sweet and spicy, like chocolate and cinnamon, to savoury and earthy, like leather and pipe tobacco. If you enjoy Zinfandel or Merlot, you’ll love to taste a Primitivo from Italy!

Where is Primitivo Grown?

Primitivo is grown in the Puglia region of Italy, of course! But that’s not the only place. Primitivo actually covers about 46,000 acres of land worldwide (that’s about the size of Aruba – can you tell we are dreaming of a vacation?), with the majority of that area (93 percent) of that being in the form of Zinfandel in California. There are approximately 2,500 acres of Primitivo in Italy, and 250 acres of Crljenak Kaštelanski in Croatia (100 acres is about the size of Vatican City, for comparison).

Did you know?

Primitivo is the third-most planted grape in Puglia, behind Sangiovese and Negroamaro.

Growing Primitivo in Italy


Puglia rests on a plateau, unlike the rest of Italy, which is primarily mountainous. The land is composed of plains and low hills. Acidity is maintained by cooling winds that blow across the plains between the Ionian and Adriatic seas, located on either side of the “boot heel” that is Puglia. The land is characterized by cavernous eroded limestone and underground rivers. The thin layer of topsoil is rich in minerals, and the vine roots extend down into the eroded limestone. These minerals give the wine lots of structure and mouth-watering tannins.

Growing Primitivo (Zinfandel) in the USA

Napa Valley Floor

Historic vineyards which have survived over 100 years (even through Prohibition) produce full-bodied aromatic wines characterized by dark fruit flavours and black pepper. These wines are often quite complex due to their deep root systems pulling minerals from the rock formations below. Zinfandel from Napa Valley tends to be higher in acidity and tannins, which means you can age them with the best.

Zinfandel vineyards in Napa Valley

Napa Valley Hills

In contrast to wines grown on the Napa Valley Floor, those grown in the Napa Hillside are exposed to cooler temperatures, leading to a higher acidity. The vines are old, like in other areas of California, so the root systems go deep. These wines tend to have a spicier, earthier flavour profile – think cayenne pepper and tobacco.


Love Merlot? Then you definitely need to try a Zinfandel from Sonoma. These wines are characterized by chocolatey mocha and five-spice flavours. They are softer and lusher than some other Zinfandels on the market due to the cooler (and foggier) temperatures in the Sonoma region.


There’s a large, flat region in the central valley of California. This is called the Lodi wine region. It’s the location of the major commercial wineries in California, so many different grape varieties are grown here. Among these, you will find Zinfandel! Lodi Zinfandels are very rich, with dark raspberry and mocha notes.

Sierra Foothills

Looking for a super jammy Zinfandel? Look for one from the Sierra Foothills. This region is warmer, so the grapes grown here develop more ripe red fruit flavours (like raspberry and strawberry) and tend to have a higher alcohol content.

Mendocino Ridge

High-altitude, cool-climate vineyards spot the mountains only a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. Significant diurnal shifts result in deliciously balanced wines with high acidity and complex flavours, with bramble fruit notes. These vineyards were planted in the late 1800s and were kept running throughout Prohibition due to the pioneer families’ dedication and production of bootleg wines. 

Did you know?
Mendocino Ridge is nicknamed “Islands of the sky” because it is a non-continuous wine region high up in the mountains, above the fog line. 

Paso Robles

An incredibly diverse region in terms of terroir. The rainfall can range from 254 mm to 1016 mm per year, depending on the elevation, ranging from 700 feet to 2400 feet above sea level. This means Zinfandel from this region is also diverse in flavour profile, but generally, they are more floral than those from other Californian regions. 

Zinfandel vines in Paso Robles

Growing Primitivo (Crljenak Kaštelanski/Tribidrag) in Croatia

Dalmatian Coast

In Croatia, most Tribidrag has been replaced by the grape’s child variety, Plavac Mali, but in recent years more Tribidrag has been reintroduced into the region. It has lower tannins than Plavac Mali and develops delicious berry and spice notes when grown here.

What to Pair with Primitivo?

Primitivo is extremely versatile and will pair well with a variety of dishes. The tannins and acidity make it very food-friendly, but we are partial to pairing it with hearty foods – especially tomato-based dishes. Try it with your favourite pizza on a weeknight, a spaghetti bolognese the next time you feel like Italian, a lentil stew on a rainy day, or even barbecued hamburgers at your next block party! 

Glass of red wine (Zinfandel) with foods

Three Styles of Primitivo from Puglia

So, we’ve piqued your interest, and you want to know more about Primitivo from Puglia? We knew it! Three DOCs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) produce Primitivo wines that each have unique characteristics. These are:

  • Manduria
    Primitivo wines from Manduria are rich. The region is at a very low altitude, close to the sea and experiences warm temperatures, which gives these wines robust flavour and higher alcohol content.
  • Gioia del Colle
    Wines from Gioia del Colle are fresh. The region is located on a flat plateau which experiences a large diurnal shift, which gives these wines a balanced acidity unique to this region. 
  • Salento
    Salento Primitivo wines are dry. The region is also located at a lower altitude, along the Ionian Sea, but here the coastal influence leads to higher tannin and less alcohol than in Manduria.
Zinfandel vineyards in Puglia

What’s a DOC?

If you’ve been learning more about Italian wines, then you’ve probably seen the abbreviation DOC. But what does that mean? It stands for ‘Denominazione di Origine Controllata’ which, put simply, is a classification system for Italian wines. The system classifies wines based on where they are grown and how they are made. If a wine has a DOC classification, it guarantees that that wine follows specific quality standards.

How to Choose a Good Primitivo

Having trouble finding the perfect Primitivo? Shopping for wine can be overwhelming – but that’s why we’re here! Sign up for a wine subscription from WineCollective, and you’ll receive a curated selection of amazing wines from around the world – every month. We often feature Primitivo and Zinfandel, so you’ll get to explore some excellent selections. Members even get 15-50 percent off the retail price of bottles in the store

Looking for a Primitivo? Try this Coppi Peucetico Primitivo straight from Puglia! Members save 21 percent off retail!

Looking for a Zinfandel? Try this Integration Red – an invigorating blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel from California. Members get 20 percent off retail on this gem!

Join WineCollective Today!

A Journey in Wine: The Wines of Spain

You might’ve tried Rioja or Cava, or even sipped on a glass of Sherry once, but what more do you know about vino de España? Let’s explore the fascinating world of the wines of Spain.

Even though Spain’s history of winemaking dates back to the Roman empire, it’s only in the past few decades that Spain has come into its own as a quality wine-producing country. The country had a brief stint as the world’s largest wine producer by volume in 2013 and received recognition as a leader in the industry. Spain has since fallen to third place, but remains a top producer in the world today. 

Are Spanish Wines Organic?

Spain is the world’s largest producer of organic wine, with 1,21,000 hectares in 2019 (27 percent of the world’s organic vineyard area). The country has more than doubled its organic wine production in the last eight years and shows no signs of slowing down. Many wines are vegan as well, and are made with minimal intervention in the fining and filtration process. This results in wines with natural and unique flavours that are true to their terroir, or their place of origin.

Want a Taste?

WineCollective’s Via Terra Selection, made from a local variety of Garnacha, is a great example of Spain’s vegan and organic wine.

Are Spanish Wineries Sustainable?

Larger Spanish wineries are leading the charge when it comes to building sustainable wineries and storage facilities that blend in with their landscape. Beronia in Rioja Alta opened the first winery with LEED (Leader in Energy Efficient and Sustainable Design) status in Europe, using renewable energy sources and cutting-edge technology. Finca Montepedroso in Rueda had a winery built with typical materials of the area to blend in with the surrounding vineyards. Many Spanish wineries use caves or underground storage facilities to age the wines naturally. 

glass of red wine with olives and charcuterie

What Grape Varieties Grow in Spain?

Spain is home to around 600 grape varieties, although only roughly 20 are used for the majority of wines. Some winemakers have a renewed interest in these indigenous grape varieties, however, as they really bring character and, literally, variety to the Spanish wine scene.

Some of the most common red grape varieties grown in Spain:

  • Tempranillo is the most widely planted grape variety in Spain, and the grape that characterizes the popular Rioja blends.
  • Garnacha is often used as a blending partner with Tempranillo. It shows rich berry flavours and spice, and sometimes tomato leaf.
  • Monastrell is known as Mourvèdre in France. It has high tannins and acidity, with characteristic dark berry fruit.
  • Bobal is the second most-planted red grape variety after Tempranillo. The wines have a lively acidity, with aromas of dried berries and chocolate.

Some of the most common white grape varieties grown in Spain:

  • Albariño grows in northern Spain, where the grape develop thick skins due to the cool climate. The wines are aromatic and zesty, ideal for seafood.
  • Verdejo makes subtle, but rich white wines with plenty of lemon, grass, and, with age, almond aromas and flavours.

Where is Wine Grown in Spain?

Spain’s climate is mostly continental, with hot, dry summers and cold winters. Although the country is in the hotter climate range for wine, its network of mountain ranges highly influences vine-growing temperatures. Climates vary quite a bit throughout Spain’s wine regions, which fosters an incredible variety of wine in the country. 

Wines of Northern Spain

The wines of northwestern Spain are cool-climate wines, with the zesty whites of Rias Baixas as the most famous ones. Further west is the small wine region of Bierzo, producing great wines made from indigenous grapes Mencia and Godello. Some great Tempranillos come from this region, such as the outspoken Bodegas Neo Disco. Toro, Rueda, and Ribeira del Duero are further inland, protected by the Cantabrian mountains. 

Northeastern Spain is characterized by the Ebro river and its valleys. The upper Ebro river is important to the regions of Rioja and Navarra which produce the best exports of Tempranillo and Garnacha. Our Armentia y Madrazo Gran Reserva is a beautiful example of Rioja’s excellence, while Castillo de Eneriz Riserva is a bit more of a modern-day blend from Navarra. 

Wines of South-Eastern Spain

Jumilla, Valencia, Alicante and Bullas are the fastest-growing regions in Spain. Fruity and stylish reds are their champions, made in a richer, sweeter style. These wines give producers from California and Australia a run for their money!

Local varieties such as Monastrell are blended with international grape varieties like Syrah, like the 3000 Años from Bullas. Or Tempranillo with Petit Verdot or Cabernet Sauvignon, like this Nucli Tinto from Valencia (Tempranillo with Petit Verdot and Syrah).

This region is also home to Bobal, a light and easy-drinking wine, made in a similar style to the light Pinot Noirs of French Burgundy. Our En La Parra is the life of the party!

The Wines of South of Madrid

Closest to Madrid are the vineyards of La Mancha, one of the best-known tourist destinations in Spain. Our biodynamic Pablo Claro is from this region, a blend of local grape Graciano and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The south is most widely planted with Airén, which is the grape most commonly used in making brandy. As time goes on this region is changing from white to more red varieties. 

Wines of Spain: a vineyard in Rioja

Wines from La Rioja are among the most popular wines in the world. The first mention of the name Rioja as a wine-producing region dates back to 1092. In 1872 the introduction of railways in the country made it possible for wineries to get their wines to the coast, to be shipped to foreign markets.

Early wineries in the area wanted to keep up with the famous châteaux of Bordeaux and started exporting their wines, putting Spain on the map. Until the 1970s, most of Rioja was made by small farmers. The grapes were picked fast and then aged in old American oak for many years. In the 20th century, new winemaking techniques were introduced as well as winemaking laws by the European Union, which led to higher quality wines.

Wines of Spain: a vineyard in Penedes, Catalonia

Catalonia – Home of Cava: Spain’s Sparkling Wine

Cava is Spain’s sparkling wine, made with the same method of production as Champagne. However, the grapes are different. Champagne uses Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in their blends. For Cava, it’s a blend of Macabeo, with a combination of Xarel-Lo and Parellada to balance it out. As these are all white grape varieties, a small amount of Pinot Noir is planted in the area to blend in to make rose Cava.

Cava means “cave” in Spanish, referring to how these wines are made. Just like Champagne, these wines undergo a second fermentation in the bottle and must be cellared for a minimum of nine months on their lees (disintegrated yeast cells). The majority (around 95 percent) of Cava is made in Catalonia (in Penedès, pictured), but it may be produced in other regions as well. 

The Andalucia/Jerez Region: The Home of Sherry

Andalucia is cooler, due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s perfect for growing Palomino, Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel grapes, the main source in the production of Sherry. Next to Port, Sherry is one of the world’s best-known fortified wines in the world. Though not as popular in modern times as it once was, Sherry is still widely exported. It is produced in a wide range of styles from light and dry to rich and sweet, using the “solera” system which blends wines of different ages from different barrels.

How are Spanish Wines Classified?

As a member of the European Union, Spain has wine laws that comply with the EU standards. Spain has 70 DOs (Denominación de Origen) and two DOCas (Denominación de Origen Calificada), La Rioja and Priorat. 

What is a DO?

A DO is a Spanish classification for wines that come from a specific region or zone and is not a blend of different areas. Unlike table wine which can be a blend from different regions, this ensures that the wines come from the region stated on the label as required by law.

What is a DOCa?

DOCa-status is reserved for standout regions among the DOs. Their standout regions are higher than the DOs, and they must have demonstrated superior quality as a DO for at least 10 years before obtaining DOa status. This classification has been awarded only to Rioja and Priorat so far.

Aging requirements and Terminology

Aging wine in oak barrels is a common practice in Spain. Labeling terminology to indicate a wine’s age is strictly regulated by Spanish wine law.

Wines of Spain aging designations

Vinos de Pago

On top of the traditional DO classification system, Spain saw the introduction of “vinos de pago” in 2003, similar to a “first growth” classification in France. To become certified, the estate needs to demonstrate unique characteristics. The standards for these wines are higher than those of other DO’s and DOa’s. Vino de Pagos set their own appellation rules, but if they are located inside an existing DO or DOa their standards must meet or exceed those expectations. There are currently 20 Vino de Pagos but that number is expected to increase.

This is just a high-level overview of a country that is endlessly fascinating and still very much in development. Due to changing climate conditions, new wineries are popping up in the southern regions of Spain. It’s becoming easier to plant vines and have a successful harvest in these regions. The wines of the Spanish islands are also gaining traction. Here at WineCollective, we make sure to share our discoveries and rare finds with our members. Join us as we explore uncharted territories and discover wonderful grape varieties and unusual blends. 

A Journey in Wine: The Wines of the United States

America doesn’t have as long a wine history as other countries, but it is the fourth largest wine producer in terms of volume worldwide. Let’s have a closer look at the wines of the United States, known for its big, bold wines.

Go big, or go home: it seems a fitting phrase not only for the country, but for the American wine industry as well. The country boasts some impressive stats:

  • The USA is the globe’s largest wine consumer.  
  • The country is one of the world’s leaders of exports and imports of wine and shows no signs of slowing down. 
  • They are also the world’s largest luxury wine market. 

In short: America drives the global wine industry. 

map of USA superimposed on a vineyard

An Overview of the USA as a Wine-Producing Country

Almost every American state has a thriving wine scene. California is the largest, and best-known. The country produces many wine styles, but is best known for big, bold and juicy Cabernet Sauvignons and boldly oaky and buttery Chardonnays. 

  • Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling also play an important role in American winemaking, as they are cold-hardy grapes that can survive extreme temperatures and are suited to less than ideal growing conditions. In recent years, American winemakers have been creating amazing wines from their lesser-known regions in Oregon, Washington and New York. 
  • America is a large country and produces wines in a variety of different styles. For example, Chardonnay can vary widely from unoaked, citrusy and acid driven styles to oaky buttery and tropical notes. 
  • America is known for creating wines that embrace modern winemaking. American winemakers aren’t subject to the strict winemaking laws so common in Europe and therefore can make wines with more freedom of expression.

Winemaking in California

American wine is almost synonymous with Californian wine, but why is it such an ideal environment for growing grapes?

  • It has a Mediterranean climate
    Temperatures during the growing season average 13-21 ºC.
  • There’s an Ideal amount of sunshine

Morning fog cools the vineyards with full sunlight in the afternoon giving an even ripening to the grapes.

  • There’s minimal rainfall and clouds 

Rainfall typically amounts to less than 20 inches in an average season.

  • Mild winters

On the coast the average daytime temperature hovers around 20°C and up and can get up to 30 °C or more on the hottest summer days. Freezing temperatures are rare, even in winter.

  • Low humidity 

Dryer, almost desert-style conditions with relatively low humidity prevent disease from spreading in the vineyard.

With 80 percent of the vineyard acreage in the country and 88 percent of the wines being made here, California is by far the largest wine producer of the 50 US states. Areas in the north and along the coast have cooler climates ideal for Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, whereas inland areas get plenty of heat perfect for ripening red grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ripe bunches of Cabernet Sauvignon

The Roots of American Winemaking


The history of wine in America dates back to the early 1560s when the first American colonies were settling on the East Coast. The settlers brought vine plantings with them, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that a sustainable wine industry developed. This had a lot to do with the West Coast becoming part of the United States after the Mexican War. 


When gold was discovered in California in 1849, the population of California skyrocketed as did the demand for alcohol. However, problems started to develop in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the spread of phylloxera, a deadly insect pest that attacks vines. The phylloxera louse had come from Europe through grapevine cuttings. 

The bigger problem however, was a political one that started in 1919. Moral crusaders were questioning the culture and safety of alcohol, eventually leading to the 13-year Prohibition period. Production in California surprisingly increased, as wine was being used for sacramental wine, and consumers started buying grapes to make homemade wine. As most winemakers were not allowed to produce more than 200 gallons of wine, they planted high yield grapes and often made blends of different grape varieties. This started the red blend trend we commonly know to come out of California today.

Focus on varietal wine and innovations


Prohibition was followed by the Great Depression and World War II. These were some of the toughest times to be living in America and it took several decades for the wine industry to recover, rebuild and establish a consumer base. 


The early 1960s were a time of growth and wine became fashionable again, increasing the demand in the industry. Winemakers like Robert Mondavi, Warren Winiarski, and Mike Grgić pioneered the success of producing quality wines that could compete with their European counterparts.

 In France, the Judgment of Paris Tasting that took place in 1976 put California on the map. After a blind tasting, the French wine judges unknowingly voted for a California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon as first-place winners above the finest white Burgundy and Bordeaux classified growths. This was an important date in history as it gave California winemakers the confidence that their wines could compete with well-established winemakers around the globe. It also paved the path for a new level of sophistication among American wine consumers, demand for varietally-labeled wines rather than generic labels became the new standard and place of origin became important. The American wine industry has been gaining traction ever since. 

fog rolls in over the vineyards in California

Introduction of American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s)

American Viticultural Areas (AVA’S) are different from their European Counterparts in that they do not dictate a specific style of winemaking, but they do give a sense of place. There is no minimum or maximum size for an AVA, but it is generally thought that smaller AVAs produce wines of greater quality. America has over 261 distinct AVAs of which 142 are dedicated to California. AVA’s became important as winemaking started to expand as climates can differ quite a bit from place to place. 

In California alone, it would take 12 hours to drive from the most northern edge of the growing region to the very southern end of the growing region. If we look at the AVA’s in the North Coast, we can see a difference in how the wines are made:

  • The Santa Cruz Mountains, which are further north, produce wines with greater acidity and more tannic structure. Example: Ridge Vineyards, a great place to grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.
  • Further south, in Sonoma County, we get wines that are more fruit-forward with softer tannins due to the influence of San Pablo Bay. An example is Shug Estate, which produces good medium and light-bodied reds like Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir and more structured whites like Chardonnay.
  • Inland, in Lodi, the air quality is very different and the valley acts like a vacuum sucking in all of the cold air from the ocean which is great for growing acidic white wines. 

Knowing these qualities about certain AVA’s can help consumers best decide which wines suit their preferences.

Modern Winemaking in California

California has come a long way in the last decade and in many ways is still being defined. More AVAs have been distinguished even in the last few years, with the newest San Luis Obispo Coast AVA just coming on the map in March of 2022. California has added an additional 23 AVAs since 2018 and the wine trade is still growing. 

Online Wine Sales

The latest trends, however, have been centered around technology and more sales are made online than in brick-and-mortar stores since 2021, with Vivino being the largest player. New technology fueled by a thirst for alternative assets has also started a trend in wine investing online, something previously only available to the elite high-net-worth individuals is now readily accessible and helping wineries stay in business. 

Other important American Winemaking States

California has the largest area under vine in the US, but the state has some serious contenders with Washington, Oregon and New York. These states are gaining traction and making a mark on the map. Although these three are the most-recognized American regions after California, it’s important to note that Virginia is an up-and-coming contender for winemaking, with 10 winemaking regions and 8 distinguished AVAs. The US also has a few AVAs in Texas, New Mexico, and one in Arizona, although we don’t normally see these wines on the export market.

Winemaking in Oregon

The Oregon wine industry is primarily dominated by small family-run wineries and is a great source for unique wines. Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines are highly acclaimed and sought-after wines from the region. These are also the most widely available in the Canadian market. 

Oregon is home to 18 AVAs, with the Willamette Valley, Walla Walla Valley and Columbia and Columbia Valley as the best-known ones. Oregon is best suited to cool climate grape varieties and has a climate similar to that of Burgundy. Although to a lesser extent, some of the wineries are producing Rhône varieties which are sourced from the warmer southern parts of Oregon’s Rogue Valley.

Number of AVAs in Oregon: 18

Primary Grapes Grown in Oregon: Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Sparkling Wine

Winemaking in Washington

Washington is the second largest producer of wine in the US and has the most land under vine next to California. Although winemaking in Washington started near Puget Sound, minimal sunshine made it more viable to grow grapes east of the Cascade Mountains. 

Although the region has nearly desert-like conditions, the vines still get ample water from the glacial runoff from the mountains as well as influence from the Columbia River for irrigation, without which viticulture would be impossible. Washington has 14 AVAs, and most are protected by the rain shadow formed by the Cascade Mountains – creating an ideal and unique climate for grape growing.

Number of AVAs in Washington: 14

Primary Grapes Grown in Washington: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling

Winemaking in New York

New York plays a significant role in America’s winemaking as it was one of the eastern pioneering regions where grapes were first planted in the Americas. However, the state isn’t always ideal for grape-growing as hot, humid summers foster mold and disease, and the climate can often face harsh winters. 

Despite the challenges, New York still maintains a flourishing wine industry. In recent years, New York has grown and modernized its winemaking capabilities substantially. The Finger Lakes are the most important, with 85 percent of the state’s wine production. With a climate similar to Germany, Riesling and Cabernet Franc do well here and most of the region is planted to cold-hardy grapes.

Number of AVAs in New York: 7

Primary Grapes Grown in New York: Riesling, Cabernet Franc, hybrid grape varieties

Want to Discover American Wine?

At WineCollective, we love the wines of our neighboring country. We often feature wine from famous AVAs in California, such as Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, or the Russian River Valley. Occasionally, we feature a wine from Oregon or Washington as well. If you’d like to discover great American wines that are exclusive to Canada, sign up as a member today!

A Journey in Wine: The Wines of Germany

If you’ve ever stared at a German wine label, you probably assumed deciphering it requires next-level skills (and most likely, some reading glasses). However, we urge you to set aside your fear of impossibly long words and umlauts and hear us out. The wines of Germany are worth discovering – and not just Rieslings – and cracking the code of the German wine label is easier than you think.

What’s Germany as a Wine Country Like?

Germany is known as one of the world’s coldest-climate wine regions. Its northernmost vineyards lie well above the normal latitude range for growing grapes and are far from the moderating influence of a large body of water. Through determination (or is it stubbornness?) and hundreds of years of experience with carefully chosen vineyard sites, German winemakers have found a way to produce world-class wines. Many regions have a unique terroir of red and dark blue slate soils that are ideal for absorbing solar heat during the daytime and radiating it back at night, which is why these grapes can still grow and ripen properly even in a harshly cold climate.

Riesling is king, a grape that is one of the most cold-hardy grapes. German Riesling has a worldwide reputation for quality, complexity and ageability. However, German wine is about more than just Riesling: the country also produces many white, red and even sparkling wines. 

Wines of Germany: steep slopes of the Mosel

Why You Should Know About German Wine

Due to its unique climate, Germany can produce wines with a high acidity, which makes them extremely food-friendly and a great pairing to a vast amount of different dishes. Much like German engineering, the wines stand for quality and precision: they are a force to be reckoned with. Read our blog about acidity in wine, and why high-acid wines pair well with food.

What Grapes Are Grown in Germany?

It’s no surprise that white grape varieties dominate the nation, accounting for 66% of the country’s total wine plantings. Germany is home to over 100 different grape varieties however, 20 of those make up most of the plantings that we see in the German export market. 


Riesling is the most widely planted variety, accounting for roughly 20% of total production. Rieslings from Mosel and the Rheingau are the most sought-after worldwide. 


Müller-Thurgau comes after Riesling. This is a Riesling crossing developed for heartiness and its ability to grow in cold climates, but it lacks in flavour and longevity compared to Riesling. You could consider it a “drink now while you are waiting for your Riesling to age” variety. 

Other German Grape Varieties

Germany’s leading grape producers also grow:

  • Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) is the most planted red grape variety.
  • Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) is also common and sometimes labeled as Ruländer
  • Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) is less common but still widely available
  • Chardonnay. Germany produces a small amount in a Chablis-style.

Other important grape varieties that are indigenous to Germany and exciting to try include Silvaner and Kerner (whites) and Dornfelder and Portugieser (reds). Most of the red grapes grow in southern German growing regions, whereas most of the whites come from Germany’s northernmost growing regions.

Wines Of Germany Riesling in the vineyard

Quality German Wine Levels

In Germany there are two main quality levels to look for:

Qualitätswein [“Kvahl-it-AYTS-vine”]

These wines are defined as quality wine from a designated region. The wine must come from one of the 13 designated wine growing regions in Germany. This means these wines meet basic level quality standards and are above average table wine. 

Prädikatswein [“Pray-dee-CAHTS-vine”]

This is the highest quality level designation, a notch up from Qualitätswein. This classification is divided into different degrees of ripeness of the grapes at harvest time. 

Kabinett [“Kah-bee-Net”]: Light to medium-bodied wines made from grapes with the lowest ripeness level. Around 7% – 8% alcohol and good for acidity. And if you are a member of WineCollective, you’ll know that this means Kabinett will pair perfectly with lots of different foods!

Spätlese [“SHPAYT-lay-zuh”]: These are late-harvest wines with additional ripeness and can be made in an off-dry or dry style. Perfect to pair with roast pork of moderately spiced Asian dishes.

Auslese [“OWS-lay-zuh]: Selected harvest. These are wines from grapes that have stayed on the vine a bit longer to develop more sweetness. They can also be made from dry to sweet – with the drier styles around 14% alcohol. The drier versions pair better with food, while the sweeter styles are best savoured on their own.

Beerenauslese [“Bih-ren-OWS-lay-zuh”]: Rich, sweet dessert wines made from individually harvested berries. Often affected by botrytis, a fungus that pierces through the grape’s skins and concentrates the juice, and affecting the grapes to exhibit honeyed flavours similar to Sauternes. 

Trockenbeerenauslese [You can do this! “TROH-ken-bih-ren-OWS-lay-zuh”]: Wines from individually picked berries. They are overripe to the point of being raisins and among the sweetest, most unctuous dessert wines.

Eiswein [“ICE-vine”]: Ice wine made from frozen grapes harvested late in the season and very sweet. Yes, Frozen. Picked at temperatures that are a minimum of -7 ºC (We can almost hear the harvesters sing “The cold never bothered me anyway!”)

Wines of Germany: Eiswein - frozen grapes on the vine

What Are Germany’s Main Wine Regions?

Mosel [“MOH-sehl”]

The Mosel is the best-known wine region in Germany. It’s famous for its Rieslings and one of the largest areas in terms of production. This is the most northern wine region in Germany with vineyards so steep that they must hand-harvest the grapes, while balancing on the slopes (see: stubbornness, above).

Known for producing high quality white wine, Riesling takes up 60% of total production with the rest being mostly Müller-Thurgau. Acidity is the hallmark of these wines, balanced by rich flavours of stone fruits and honey. As these wines grow in regions so far north, they usually contain no more than 10% alcohol and are a great choice for those looking for low-alcohol wines.

Rheingau [“RHAYNE-gou”]

This region only produces about 2% of Germany’s wines but is also the most famous for producing the highest quality wines in all of Germany. Among the best examples are Riesling and Spätburgunder [“Sh-PATE-boor-gun-der”] (Pinot Noir). Look to this region for a fuller body-style Riesling.

Nahe [“NAAH-huh”] 

This region is dominated by indigenous white grape varieties. Nahe is a great place to look if you want to find something unique, like a Kerner or Sylvaner. 

Rheinhessen [“RHAYNE-hessen”]

The Rheinhessen leads Germany wine production with the most land under vine and overall wine production. Best known for its Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and Dornfelder.

Pfalz [“Pfahlts”]

This region’s name comes from a Latin word meaning “palace” and given this region gets the most sunlight and least cloudy days it’s rather fitting. The Pfalz lies along the border of France and is a stone’s throw away from Alsace. This is the best place to look for affordable Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

Baden [“BAH-dun”]

The warmest of Germany’s growing regions and most famous for its red wine production, this is the best place to look for Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), Dornfelder and Portugieser.

How to Read A German Wine Label

Now that you know something about the German grape varieties, quality classification system and regions, you can get a lot of information from a German wine label. 

Source: Thomas Er/Wikimedia Commons]

On these labels above, you can spot the name of the producer (“Dönnhoff”), the vintage (“2005” and “2003”), the town (used as an adjective, so “Oberhausen (an der Nahe)” becomes “Oberhäuser”, and the specific vineyard is “Leistenberg”). These are wines from Nahe, with 9% and 11.5% alcohol, respectively. They are both “Qualitätswein mit Prädikat”: one a Riesling Kabinett, the other one a Riesling Kabinett trocken, an off-dry and dry wine.  

Or, if you’re still confused, watch Ernst Loosen, one of the Mosel’s most renowned winemakers, explain it:

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