Erik Neilson on February 14, 2017 1 Comment Let’s face it: learning about the wine world can be an exercise in frustration if you don’t know where to start. There’s so much information floating around — much of which is contradictory — that many people get overwhelmed to the point of dropping any intentions of learning more about wine, which has ruined what can be a beautiful hobby and interest for countless individuals. While there’s no “one size fits all” approach to understanding wine, regionality can be an excellent starting point. There are a number of regions throughout the world that are well-known at this point for their wine production. More often than not, this is because wines produced in these regions are characteristic of the utmost in quality, bringing to the table everything that is expected of a well-crafted offering. Some of the world’s top wine regions are newly popular, too, as modern producers are changing the face of the wine world and gaining attention for their unique wines and cultivation practices. Others are true classics, home for centuries to some of the finest wines on the planet. If you’re new to the discussion of regionality in wine, you’re not alone. While countless regions have plenty to offer, here are the top 5 wine regions throughout the world — all of which produce wines both affordable and luxurious. 1. The Finger Lakes When looking back at some of the most historically well-known wine regions in history, New York’s Finger Lakes region isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind. Modern winemakers in the area can be thanked for this shift in consciousness, as much of the world now looks to the Finger Lakes for some of the top Rieslings available today. The Finger Lakes AVA was established in 1982 and is today the largest wine production region in New York, home to over 11,000 acres of vineyards rife with both native and European grapes. Because of the climate and growing conditions characteristic of the Finger Lakes region, the area is often compared to Germany’s Rhine region. Perhaps as a result, many people look to the Finger Lakes as the penultimate part of the country for Riesling production, with top producers such as Henry J. Weimer leading the charge. Home to over 100 wineries, the popularity of the Finger Lakes region is increasing with each passing year, and it’s not a trend that’s looking to slow down anytime soon. Sicilian Wines 101: A Primer on Grapes and Styles 2. Sicily Italian wine certainly has a long and storied history, but when you look closer, much of the grapes and producers talked about tend to be from the north. It’s only been fairly recent that wines produced in the south of the country have been gaining attention, and there is perhaps no region more noteworthy at the moment than the island of Sicily. Sicilian wine has heart and character in ways that many regions strive for, yet can never truly hit upon. With grapes such as Nero d’Avola, Frappato and Grillo found all throughout the island, there is truly a Sicilian wine option for everyone. While flavors and characteristics are not entirely consistent across the board among Sicilian grapes, the island’s volcanic soil provides a minerality that is omnipresent and shines through many of the wines popularly exported from Sicily. Producers such as Arianna Occhipinti are leading the Sicilian wine movement, bringing these unique grapes and the flavors/aromas they’re associated with to places such as the United States, where Sicily has historically been ignored as a wine region. Over time, it’s fair to assume that Sicily will become even more firmly planted as one of the world’s most interesting and fruitful wine regions. 3. The Rhône Valley There are few regions in the world better known for wine production than France’s Rhône Valley. This massive part of the wine world consists of over 6,000 properties actively growing wine grapes, which includes over 1,800 actual wineries — an astonishing number by any count. Producing approximately 4 million hectoliters each year, the Rhône Valley is by all means a top region for both affordable and special occasion wines. While a number of different grapes are grown here, the dominant varietals tend to be Marsanne, Roussanne, Syrah and Viognier. One important thing to note about the Rhône Valley of France is that the area is so large, it is often divided into two separate denominations — north and south. The coastal sections of the region are referred to as Côtes du Rhône and make up a great deal of the actual production experienced in the Rhône Valley, leaving just 5% of production occurring in the north. Climate differences between the north and south of the Rhône Valley result in wines that are mutually exclusive from one another, perhaps adding to the value and mystique of wines produced in this region. 4. Paso Robles Some of the most beautiful wines coming out of California are being produced in Paso Robles. Located in San Luis Obispo County, Paso Robles is home to more than 26,000 acres of vineyards, and the wines being made here are not too far off from those being produced in France’s Rhône Valley mentioned above. As grapes were first introduced to the area in 1797, Paso Robles has a rich history of cultivation and has seen a huge uptick in production over the course of the past 25 years, going from 20 or so wineries to now more than 200. Plenty of varietals are grown in Paso Robles, including grapes like Viognier and Roussanne that are popular in the Rhône Valley. If the Paso Robles AVA is known for any one grape, however, it’s Zinfandel. The heritage varietal can produce an extremely full-bodied wine, and Zins from Paso Robles are considered by many to be the best in the world. Paso Robles is also an excellent region to visit for those who are looking to tour a variety of wineries in a single day, as the area is very much driveable. 5. Basque Country Another one of the world’s top wine regions that many people are unfamiliar with is Basque Country. Wines coming out of Basque Country are extremely unique, thanks in large part to the unique grapes grown in the region that differentiate the area from the rest of Spain. Txakolin, for example, is a effervescent dry white wine with high levels of acidity and a low alcohol content, often served as an aperitif and almost always consumed fresh (within one year). The area’s extremely steep sloping hills provide a very interesting growing environment, which comes out in the terroir of the wine. If you’re new to Basque Country wines, Txakoli is definitely the grape to start with. From there, you may want to consider trying the many crianzas, reservas and gran reservas that Basque Country has become famous for. There’s a lot to love about the many wine regions throughout the world, and these five are just the tip of the iceberg. Start here, and don’t hesitate to branch out!