(CNN) – When the golden light of the evening sun streams through the even green rows of a vineyard and dances through your glass as you sip wine on the terrace, it is easy to understand the importance of terroir.
It is the special quality that a wine acquires due to its environmental conditions, especially the soil and climate. From Portugal’s Douro region to California’s Napa Valley, many destinations around the world are known for their stunning scenery, mild climate, and delicious wine.
But one country just conquered all the others in Decanter World Wine Awards 2023the most important unified wine competition in the world, which is celebrating its 20th edition.
It was a triumph for the New World, with 10 Australian wines named best on offer, more than any other country. Well-known brands Penfolds and Jacob’s Creek were represented, while the Margaret River region of Western Australia recorded two reds and one white. McLaren Vale, in South Australia, has two reds from Class One.
France and Spain, two traditional wine-producing nations, won eight Best Presentation medals each. The best Champagne was the unvintage Blanc de Blancs Brut Grand Cru, while the best Bordeaux were from Château Fayat and Château de Rochemorin. And if Chery interests you, Harveys 30 Years Amontillado and Lustau’s 30 Years Old Oloroso are the best.
Italy had seven of the best performances – all reds from Tuscany and Piedmont – while Portugal excelled (three ‘bests’) in Porto and Madeira.
The Argentine Malbecs and the German Rieslings took home Best in Show awards each, and there were Best in Show in Greece and South Africa.
Austrian rider, Chilean red, Serbian Grašac, English sparkling and Pinot Noirs from Oregon and New Zealand were the rest of the winners in 2023.
8,250 wines from 57 countries
Some 74,000 bottles of wine – four per entry – from nearly 60 countries were shipped to London’s historic Royal Docks for this year’s edition. About 240 experts from around the world gathered in April to sample between 80 and 90 wines daily, feasting on oatmeal cookies and watery biscuits between tastings.
Sarah Jane Evans, co-chair of the awards since 2019, told CNN that the judges are all regional specialists whose tastes have been shaped by a range of international cuisines.
When tasting, “What you really want to do is tell people, ‘Does it smell good? Is it floral or something else?'” Explain. Leather or tobacco are common descriptions among Western European tasters. “Then, you have to somehow describe how it is in the mouth,” for example, “the special properties of lime and passion fruit.”
The increased diversity of judges is one of the strengths of these large-scale awards. “We had the first Master of Wine from South Korea and she’d talk about black bean sauce as a flavor note, which isn’t something I would expect to use. And she’s had some success, publishing tasting books with different vocabularies.”
As for emerging wines, he says, “The Balkans are a good hunting ground: There’s Croatia and Slovenia—they make great, very good wines—and Slovakia and the surrounding areas.”
The future of wine producing regions
Countries around the world regularly set record temperatures, so climate change is already affecting established wine regions. With heatwaves in Spain and wildfires in California, “It’s a very difficult time,” says Evans. “But, on the other hand, there are many wineries that are thinking about the future.”
Regions that are famous for a particular style of wine now grow different types of grapes. For example, Bordeaux in France has allowed eight new grape varieties.
People might think, “It’s not Cabernet, it’s not Merlot, it’s not the ones we’re familiar with. But in reality, they might be better suited to the climate change that’s going on,” says Evans.
In Spain’s La Regua, where traditional wine-producing regions stretch around the river valley, they’re now “going as far up the mountainside as they can.”
English sparkling wine, still a novelty for most people, thrives in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey, the southeastern counties known as the ‘Garden of England’.
Whether it’s choosing wine at the grocery store or planning a vineyard vacation, choices around the world are growing and evolving. It’s time to get rid of your options and savor them.
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