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Which countries and regions produce the best red wine?

By Capital Frontiers

Capital Frontiers has been conducting an ongoing research project on wine from around the world. We recently wrote about speculative investments in red wine production in China, among other topics. With wine now eclipsing beer as the most popular alcoholic beverage in the United States, our goal is to provide some clarity and quantification to a realm often kept intentionally abstract. So, some notes from our research...

How is red wine different from white wine?

Red wine is slightly more popular than white wine, comprising about 46 percent of the marketplace to white wine's 44 percent. As opposed to white wine, which is generally served chilled and can often seem ubiquitous and is gratuitously over-oaked in many budget varieties, red wine is more finicky. Generally grown in warmer climates averaging between 59 and 66 degrees (f) year-round, red wine’s quality varies more by region than does white, and often deeply takes on the qualities of the land and the growing season.

What are the best regions for red wine in the world?

  1. Piedmont region, Italy - Home to the famous nebbiolo grape, this region in northwest Italy is famous for barolo and barabaresco wines. Barolo in particular is regarded as perhaps the best red wine top to bottom in the world.

  2. Bordeaux, France - Located in central / western / southern France, Bordeaux is perhaps the most well-regarded wine region in the world, famous for incredible red blends mixing primarily cabernet and merlot.

  3. Tuscany, Italy - Famous for the sangiovese grape, Tuscany is famous for lifestyle reds, especially chianti. Tuscany also produces strong cabernets, merlots, pinot noirs.

  4. Mendoza, Argentina - While virtually every variety of red has a home in Mendoza at the base of the Andes mountains, the region is most famous for the Malbecs produced higher up in the Andes.

  5. Beaujolais, France - Home to the gamay grape, Beaujolais becomes the toast of the world each November when the newest Beaujolais Nouveau is released.

  6. Douro Valley, Portugal and La Rioja, Spain - I’m not a huge fan of wines from Portugal or Spain, but they are famous for thick and sweet dessert wines, including port and sherry, and for wines made from the tempranillo grape.

  7. Other areas of France - Burgundy does fine pinot noirs, Cahors makes arguably the world’s best Malbecs, and Rhone region makes arguably the world’s best syrahs.

  8. Central Valley, Napa, Pasa Robles, California - Napa is most famous for bombastic cabernets, the Central Valley is famous for zinfadels, and the Santa Barbara area is famous for roses. Since these regions also all produce whites, California produces some nice blends and roses.

  9. Cape Winelands, South Africa - The Cape Town area of South Africa, particularly the towns of Stellenbosch, Pearl and Franschhoek, are well known for deep and earthy red wines including syrahs and its own signature variety, pinotage.

A general ranking of regions by red wine type…

Intense reds


  1. Bordeaux, France

  2. Tuscany, Italy

  3. Napa, California

  4. Maipo Valley, Chile


  1. Syrah, France

  2. Pasa Robles / Santa Barbara, California

  3. Barosa Valley, Australia

  4. Cape Winelands, South Africa

Medium reds


  1. Mendoza, Argentina

  2. Southwest France / Cahors


  1. Bordeaux, France

  2. Tuscany, Italy

  3. Piedmont, Italy

  4. Pasa Robles / Santa Barbara, California

  5. Willamette Valley, California

  6. Maipo Valley, Chile

  7. Barosa Valley, Australia

Light reds


  1. Lodi / Central Valley, California

  2. Sonoma, California

  3. Napa, California

Pinot Noirs

  1. Burgundy, France

  2. All other locations

What do pinot noirs taste like from different regions?

Because Pinot Noirs are one of the most ubiquitous reds, it’s hard to rank other locations for them. But here is a cheat sheet on what tasting notes pinot noirs take on in different regions:

  • Burgundy, France: earthy, classic, and excellent

  • Austria: red berry

  • Alsace, France: sleek and dark-fruited

  • Tuscany, Italy: dark and rich

  • Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA: cranberry flavorings

  • Pasa Robles, California, USA: vibrant, cherry

  • Sonoma, California, USA: raspberry, black cherry

  • Mendoza, Argentina: cherry and spice

  • Maipo Valley, Chile: cherry and sweet

  • Marlborough, New Zealand: darker plum and chocolate

  • US east coast (primarily New York): earthy and rustic

What are some interesting speculative regions for red wine?

  • Yarra Valley, Australia

  • Baja Peninsula, Mexico

  • Austria

More to come...

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