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Riesling grapes shining in the late afternoon sun frame Castle Scharfenstein near Kiedrich, Germany. Kiedrich is one of the famous wine villages in the Rheingau wine region.

Riesling grapes shining in the late afternoon sun frame Castle Scharfenstein near Kiedrich, Germany. Kiedrich is one of the famous wine villages in the Rheingau wine region. (Peter Jaeger / S&S)

Riesling grapes shining in the late afternoon sun frame Castle Scharfenstein near Kiedrich, Germany. Kiedrich is one of the famous wine villages in the Rheingau wine region.

Riesling grapes shining in the late afternoon sun frame Castle Scharfenstein near Kiedrich, Germany. Kiedrich is one of the famous wine villages in the Rheingau wine region. (Peter Jaeger / S&S)

Old-fashioned wine-making equipment is displayed in the vineyards above Schweigen, Germany, at the end of the German Weinstrasse.

Old-fashioned wine-making equipment is displayed in the vineyards above Schweigen, Germany, at the end of the German Weinstrasse. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

Enjoying a bottle of wine at the Oppenheim wine fest.

Enjoying a bottle of wine at the Oppenheim wine fest. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

Participants sample the offerings at a wine fest in Oppenheim.

Participants sample the offerings at a wine fest in Oppenheim. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

Wine is for sale and can be tasted at this winery in Kallstadt, on the German Weinstrasse (wine road).

Wine is for sale and can be tasted at this winery in Kallstadt, on the German Weinstrasse (wine road). (Michael Abrams / S&S)

With a history of viticulture that goes back to the Greeks, Europe has a lot of wines to choose from.

From Turkey in the east to Madeira in the Atlantic, wherever human beings could grow grapes, they did.

When many people think of wine they think France, Germany, Italy and Spain, but there is excellent wine from places one usually does not associate with the drink, such as Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary and the aforementioned Turkey.

Wine comes in various colors — red, white and rosé — and various tastes — dry, semisweet and sweet. There are wines that you are supposed to drink before dinner, others during and still others for after dinner. There are specialty wines, such as sherry from Jerez in Spain or port from Porto in Portugal. And of course, sparkling wine, best epitomized by the champagne of France.

There is cheap wine (this does not necessarily mean bad) and wine that will cost a pretty penny. A good but not great Bordeaux from France or a Brunello di Montalcino from Italy can easily set you back $20 or $30 a bottle. If you can afford it, try them, but there are also nice, simple table wines, or a step up, “land wines,” perfect for sipping while hanging out with friends.

There are way too many wines and vintners to name, but here is a selection of wines you might come across while in Europe. Some are named for the grape they are made from, others by the region where they are produced.

In France, you could choose a Bordeaux (red and white) or a Burgundy (from Beaune for red and a Chablis for white). Wines from Provence (a rosé or red would be a good choice) from the Côte du Rhone (Châteauneuf- du-Pape) and from the Loire (Sancerre, a popular white) are excellent. The ever-popular Beaujolais is a light, young red that goes well with hors d’oeuvres. The wine of the Alsace along the Rhine is akin to German wines across the river.

In Italy for a white try Soave, Frascati or a Pinot Grigio. For reds try the wines of Tuscany, such as the Brunello, mentioned above (if you have the money) or Chianti. The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is great, as is the Montepulciano from the Abruzzo region. Sicily and Sardinia also have good wines and are good alternatives. On Sicily, try a red made from the Nero d’ Avola grape, and on Sardinia, taste a Vernaccia.

Germany can offer the wines of the Rhine and Moselle, of course, and the wines of the Pfalz are great, but a good choice is also the wine from Franconia (Franken). It is bottled in the distinctive Bocksbeutel, a bottle with a round belly and short neck. Try a Ratsherr from Volkach (near Würzburg). These are all white wines, but lately local reds have become fashionable. Dornfelder, which comes as both dry and semi-sweet, is one of Germany’s most popular, and the reds of Ingleheim in the Rheingau are worth mentioning.

In northern Spain, there are the dry white and reds of Rioja (some of these can compare with the best from any country) and the reds of Navarre. The Ribera del Duero region produces excellent wines, including the legendary Unico by the Vega-Sicilia winery. Expensive and rare, it is compared to the best of the Bordeauxs. The wines of the Priorat region — strong, mineral-tasting reds — claim to be the new taste of Spanish wines. In the south, try the sweet wines of Malaga and the famous Sherry of Jerez.

Portugal has wines in all three colors, but the one most familiar to Americans is probably the rosé of Mateus. The reds and whites, especially the Vino Verde of northern Portugal, should also be tried. Madeira, from the island of the same name, is a specialty and should be tasted when it is 20 to 30 years old.

Greece also has a variety of interesting wines. There is Demestika, a dry or semisweet white or red. The white wine from Santorini made from the Assyrtiko vines is a fresh dry wine. The amber-colored Vinsanto is a specialty of the island. This sweet desert wine is made from grapes that are left to dry in the sun for eight to 14 days, then are slowly fermented in barrels for years before being bottled. Samos is a popular sweet wine, while retsina is an acquired taste. During fermentation, pine sap is added, which gives the wine its distinctive sappy taste. Originally this was done by the ancient Greeks to preserve the wine. Today it is one of the popular wines of Greece and makes up about 10 percent of the country’s wine production.

In Turkey, try Doluca (red and white) or Buzbag, a dry red. Macedonia makes excellent wines from native-grown Riesling grapes (white) and Merlot (red). Unfortunately most of what is exported is sweet and semisweet wine of low quality. Slovenia produces a good Cabernet.

In Croatia, try Dingac or Plavac, both excellent reds, and in Austria, try the reds and whites from the Burgenland.

Hungary’s gift to wine lovers is the Tokaj Aszu, a specialty wine made from hand-picked over-ripe grapes. The grapes are crushed and stirred together then mixed with wine from the same region. The sugar and aroma from the pressing of dried grapes dissolves in the wine, which, after a second slow fermentation, produces the Tokaj Aszu. Even fans of dry wine will appreciate this wine. But Hungary also produces good traditional wines, especially from the grapes grown in the Lake Balaton region.

Switzerland, a country better known for chocolate and cheese, also produces some pretty good wines. The wine from the Neuchatel region is good and happens to be one of the main ingredients of cheese fondue. Dôle, a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes, is a good choice of red wine from Switzerland

There you have it, a short wine tour of Europe. There are plenty of good wines out there that we haven’t mentioned. So go out and see the sights, try the food and taste the wines. It’s a centuries-old tradition. Cheers!

(Parts of this story were printed previously in Stars and Stripes.)

European Union classifies wine

As with many other things, the European Union has classified the quality of wine, and all wines produced in the EU must be labeled by their classification.

While the EU has only two classes of wine — table wine and quality wine with geographical origin — many countries have classifications in between. All of the vintners and their wines, especially those in the higher classes, are under strict government control. From the lowest to their highest, here are the rankings and what they are called in German, French, Italian and Spanish:

Table wine — Very simple wines, mass produced and a blend of grapes: Tafelwein (G), Vin de table (F), Vino da Tavola (I), Vino de Mesa (SP).

Land wine — Simple wines from regulated growing areas, and which kind of blended grapes are specified: Landwein (G), vin de pays (F), Indicazione Geographica Tipica (I), Vino de la Tierra (SP).

Quality wine — Wines in this class have grapes grown in a specified wine growing district; only specified types of grapes may be used; only a certain amount of the grapes may be grown and picked and must be picked at a certain time and must have a specified alcohol content: Qualitätsweine bestimmter Anbaugebiete (abbreviated Q.b.A.) (G), Appellation d’Origine Controlle (AOC) (F), Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) (I), Denominacion de Origen (D.O.) (SP).

In Italy and Spain, quality wines from a good vintage with specified ways and lengths of aging are known as Reserva (I) and Riserva (SP).

Higher quality — Qualitätsweine mit Prädikat (Q.m.P.) (G), Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) (I), Denominacion de Origen Calificada (DOCa) (SP). Q.m.P. wines are separated into five distinct quality steps, depending on alcohol content, when the grapes were picked and how they were sorted. They are Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trcokenbeerenauslese. DOCG and DOCa wines come from the classic wine grape growing districts and the best vineyards like Chianti Classico in Italy and Rioja in Spain.

Cream of the crop: Crus of Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Alsace. High-quality wines of specified geographical origins produced under very stringent guidelines by the best wineries, under tight control.

— Stars and Stripes


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