World Cup of Wine

 The FIFA 2010 World Cup has just begun and the world is watching.  Sport brings people together and unites them.  It can not only be a distraction from the problems our people and nations are facing, but can also bring about peace and togetherness.  Wine is very much the same.  It can be enjoyed by friends and family, bringing us together to celebrate and enjoy good times.

I am starting the 2010 World Cup of Wine where we pit twelve of the best wine producing World Cup nations against eachother.  We will put history, tradition, regions and wineries on the block and let you decide who is the best.  Feel free to pick your favorites by voting through Comments, Email, Twitter (@WCWineGuy) or Facebook.

I've divided the twelve nations into four Groups and we'll pick our favorite out of each and go from there:

Group A

South Africa: History stretches all the way back to their first grape harvest and crush in 1652.  Boycotts kept them from hitting most markets last century, but the industry boomed after political reform.  This reintroduced the world to wines made in near perfect conditions with excellent terroir.  Regions: Stellenbosch, Constantia, Paarl, Overberg, Breede River Valley.  Varietals:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Steen (Chenin Blanc), Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard.  Great wineries: Kanonkop, Graham Beck, Rust en Vrede, de Trafford, Boekenhoutskloof.  Try a bottle of Sadie Family red or white blend.

France: The Romans started making wine here over 2100 years ago and quickly discovered how great it was.  History turned out to be on France's side as the Roman Catholic Church maintained vineyards, advanced technology and passed them on through the centuries.  Today, they still produce some of the most sought after wines in the world.  Regions: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace, Langedoc-Roussillon, Loire and Rhone.  Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc.  Great wineries: Ch Mouton-Rothschild, Le Pin, E Guigal, Dm de la Romanée Conti, Krug.  Try a bottle of Ch Quinault l'Enclos.

Argentina: Spanish colonists brought vines in 1557 and began making wine produced at the highest altitude.  Last century, grapes were grown in mass quantity to make wine for the local masses, but in the 1990s, a focus on exports pushed producers to make a better product.  With the grapes and terroir available this was not a difficult task as with irrigation, Argentina has everything needed to make quality wines.  Regions: Mendoza, La Rioja, San Juan, Patagonia, Salta.  Varietals: Malbec, Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon, Torrontés.  Great wineries: Catena Zapata, Colomé, Achaval Ferrer, Terrazas de los Andes.  Try a bottle of Cheval des Andes.

Group B

Greece: Wine production began here over 5000 years ago and is just recently becoming a hot item.  They are finding ways to market indigenous varietals dispite hard to pronounce names and making a place for themselves in wine shops and on wine lists.  Regions: Thessaly, Epirus, Peloponnesus, Macedonia (no, not the country!), Aegean and Ionian Islands.  Varietals: Agiorghitiko, Cabernet Sauvignon, Xinomavro, Assyrtiko, Moschofilero.  Great wineries: Boutari, Dm Skouras, Alpha Estate, Oenoforus.  Try a bottle of Dm Skouras Megas Oenos Red.

USA: Wine making can be traced all the way back to 1562 in Jacksonville, Florida, and is currently being made in all fifty states.  Though California accounts for 90% of United States wine production, many of the states are and have been producing high quality wine.  Regions: California (Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara), Oregon, Washington, New York, Michigan.  Varietals: Nearly all plus local hybrids.  Great wineries: Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Araujo, Screaming Eagle, Dm Serene, Quilceda Creek.  Try a bottle of Grgich Hills Chardonnay.

Spain: A very long history here, as archaeologists believe wine traces back over 5000 years, leading up to the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, the Church and through to today.  Spain lost its place in the world due to lack of industry, political turmoil and phylloxera.  20th century stability brought it back to the forefront and they are now the world's third largest producer.  Regions: Rioja, Rueda, Ribera del Duero, Rías Baixas, Priorat, Jumilla.  Varietals: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, Albariño, Mencia, Viura.  Great wineries: Vega-Sicilia, Marqués de Murrieta, Alvaro Palacios.  Try a bottle of Descendientes de Jose Palacios "Petalos" Bierzo.

Group C

Australia: Wine was being made for sale by 1820 and enhanced by European immigrants.  Eventually, Australia would rival France in quality before the vineyards were wiped out by phylloxera.  They eventually recovered only to find themselves specializing in sweet wines, but in the 1970s a movement toward quality wines started up again and the Aussies found themselves as the world's fourth largest exporter.  Regions: Barossa, Eden Valley, Coonawarra, Hunter Valley, Rutherglen, Margaret River, Yarra Valley, McLaren Vale.  Varietals: Shiraz, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Semillon, Riesling.  Great wineries: Penfolds, d'Arenberg, Torbreck, Leeuwin Estate, Henschke.  Try a bottle of Killibinbin Shiraz.

Italy: Wine was made here before the Romans and local varietals kept alive by local families and Church lands.  Despite hard to pronounce names and varietals, Italy is the world's largest producer and consumer of wine.  They have added French varietals, which have flourished, and upped technology to high standards.  Regions: Piedmont (Asti, Barbaresco, Barolo), Tuscany (Chianti, Montalcino, Montepulciano), Veneto (Valpolicella, Valdobbiadene), Campania, Sicily, Puglia.  Varietals: Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Corvina, Aglianico, Falanghina, Primitivo.  Great wineries: Antinori, Frescobaldi, Gaja, Masi, Mastroberardino, Il Poggione.  Try a bottle of Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Germany: Viticulture started with the Romans and was mainly Church controlled in Medival Times.  Napoleon Bonaparte secularized the lands, inheritances further divided them into the coops they are today.  They are currently the eighth largest wine producer with 2/3 being white, though red production is way up.  Regions: Mosel, Ahr, Baden, Franken, Nahe, Mittelrhein, Pfalz, Rheingau.  Varietals: Riesling, Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Weisburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Müller-Thurgau.  Great wineries: Joh. Jos. Prüm, Berhard Huber, Fritz Haag, Robert Weil.  Try a bottle of Dr. H. Thanisch Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett.

Group D

Portugal: History runs deep here and just like Spain can be traced back before the Phoenicians.  The industry thrived after the 15th century as England sought more wine sources.  Their sweet Port has lived on reputation through the years, but now dry wines are coming to the forefront.  Portugal has enough potential to make some of the best in upcoming years.  Regions: Vinho Verde, Colares, Douro, Dão, Bairrada, Alentejo, Ribatejo.  Varietals: Albarinho, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Castelão, Trincadeira, Aragonez, Baga.  Great wineries: Niepoort, Azamor, Adega Cooperativo Regional de Monçao, José Maria da Fonseca.  Try a bottle of P&S Chryseia Douro.

New Zealand: Though wine production here began in 1836, it didn't start to flourish until the 1970s.  Once they found out they had the potential to create one of the world's greatest wines (Sauvignon Blanc), investment and fame followed.  Regions: Marlborough, Auckland, Hawkes Bay, Martinborough, Nelson, Central Otago.  Varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay.  Great wineries: Cloudy Bay, Craggy Range, Brancott, Te Mata.  Try a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc.

Chile: Viticulture began when Spanish conquistadors brought vines in the 16th century and led up to an exporting boom in the 1980s with the introduction of stainless steel tanks and other technology.  Today Chile is the world's fifth largest exporter of wine.  Regions: Aconcagua, Atacama, Coquimbo, Valle Central, Southern Chile.  Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc.  Great wineries: Casa Lapostolle, Concha Y Toro, Santa Rita, Cousiño Macul, Montes.  Try a bottle of Errazuriz Single Vineyard Carmenere.

So now you have all the facts.  Let's get to voting!