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International Wine – Does Original Equal Best?

A little over a generation ago, domestic wine producers felt the need to borrow Old World, European wine names (Chablis, Burgundy, Moselle and Sauterne) to market their wines. How far away that seems today! Domestic wineries have built reputations for quality and innovation over the last 30+ years. At the same time, a global shift towards varietal labeling meant that consumers could more easily understand wines from new, unknown brands, producers and regions. Today, America’s wines stand on their own… and are some of the best in the world.

Meanwhile, the classic regions of the Old World responded to the US-led New World drive for quality and innovation with shock and denial at first, but, eventually, recognition that the wine world had changed forever and the only place for complacency is in the graveyard. Similarly backward wine regions across Iberia, Italy and Central Europe began modernizing as well. Today, Bordeaux and Burgundy, the home of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, respectively, produce consistently world class examples of these grapes – something that wasn’t always true 15 or 20 years ago. Southern France’s Rhône region has experienced a renaissance of quality and consumer interest. Tuscany is enjoying success with wines made from both its indigenous grapes (Sangiovese) as well as with classic French varieties (Cabernet, Merlot and more).

Similarly, creativity, experimentation and quality have spread across the rest of the vinous New World. In South America, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are producing stellar reds and whites from Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and more. In less than 2 decades since the fall of apartheid, South Africa had undergone a rapid vinous rebirth. As Australia’s dramatic rise, capped by the ubiquity of yellow tail and the other marsupial wines, has leveled off, there’s a newfound interest in premium, high-quality Antipodean wines. Likewise, is New Zealand the new France of the Southern hemisphere with wines of unparalleled diversity and quality, but without the social, structural and marketing problems of the French wine industry? China is now the sixth largest producer in the world producing 60% as much wine as the USA. Is Asia the next sleeping giant in the wine world? And don’t laugh, but our neighbor to the north, Canada, is producing wines worth seeking out.

Now there’s nothing easy about imported wines. They can’t be purchased directly from the winery and one must deal with an array of expensive middlemen and restrictions to obtain them. European labels can be confusing with a range of languages, rules and wine styles to deal with.  Meanwhile new quality wine regions are being explored so quickly in the rest of the New World, that wine books are out of date before they’re published. However, the overwhelming diversity, individuality and innovation of international wines make them well worth the challenge of seeking out. Moreover, Lot18 has just started ramping up its international wine program with the goal of offering a broad selection of highly-touted and exclusive wines.