While the team at Xtrawine obviously, and often, makes the case for the brilliance of the Italian wine industry, we also have a great appreciation for the fine work of producers from all over the world. Many countries have thriving wine industries of their own, and each is capable of offering something a little different to challenge your palette, and any preconceptions that you may have about wine.
While the comparisons between the French and Italian wine industries have been done to death, which is no surprise seeing as the two countries constantly vie for the title of world’s largest wine producer, we thought it would be interesting to compare Italian wines with a few other country’s products. For the purposes of this article, we’ve decided to look at how Argentina and America stack up against the Italians.
Let’s note from the start that this will be a fairly general comparison. Were we to look at bottles in detail, we would be here forever as there are hundreds, if not thousands, of wine producers spread across these three countries.
Instead, we’re going to look at each country individually, examining both its general industry and the wines that it produces. Perhaps we’ll find out something interesting about each along the way.
Compared to many of the world’s other wine industries, the American industry is almost a baby. It has existed for about 300 years, and only really started to blossom upon the arrival of Spanish and English settlers. Prior to that, it’s possible that Native Americans may have used grapes to create alcoholic drinks, but the fractured nature of a tribal system ensured that wine was never produced on any sort of noticeable scale.
Despite the presence of several native grape varieties in the United States, much of the industry is based on the vitis Vinifera genus, which was introduced into the country by European settlers.
Unlike with Italy, the majority of American wine production stems from one region. California and the surrounding areas are responsible for about 90% of all American production, though there are small wine industries in places like Texas and New York as well. This is likely because the Californian climate most closely mirrors that of the Mediterranean, with its consistent hot weather. However, the occasional drought means the area is more arid than most of Italy and Argentina.
While you may think this would mean that American wines offer little variety, the size of California means that there’s plenty of room for variation.
Much like Italy, America has an appellation system, which is overseen by the ATF with its American Viticultural Areas code. As a general rule, 85% of a wine’s grapes must be grown in an AVA area to qualify for the designation. While it’s not quite as specific as the Italian DOC system, it adds a level of quality control to the American industry. However, the American industry also allows for the production of “California Champagne” and “American Burgundy”, each of which are generic wine types that don’t match the real thing for quality.
Finally, unlike in Italy, American wine companies are rarely family affairs. In fact, they often come down to one person having the desire to create a wine company, and then doing so. While this certainly happens in Italy, the age of the country’s wine industry, plus Italian societal norms, make it much more likely than an Italian child will follow their parent into the industry.
The Argentinian wine industry is older than you think, and the country stands as the world’s ninth largest producer. It all started when the Spanish colonised South America, bringing with them several grape varieties to grow in the country. As a result, an obvious distinction between Argentinian and Italian wines is that the former tend to have much more in common with Spanish wines.
Quality was also a major issue with the Argentinian wine industry for many years, with the country’s producers far more focused on quantity over quality, something that is almost anathema to an Italian producer. The issue was so bad that Argentinian wines were rarely exported out of the country, because even the producers knew that they paled in comparison to their Italian and French counterparts.
All of that changed in the 1990s, when the country decided to focus on improving the quality so that they could start selling more wines abroad. This is a good thing too, as the various Argentine wine regions are perfectly positioned for growing amazing grapes. Due to their climate and positioning, most Argentine vineyards don’t have to worry about pests or crop-based diseases. As a result, grapes grow more healthily, and are rarely tainted by man-made chemicals. This mirrors the Italian wine industries love for the land, and the recent rise of organic and biodynamic production in the country.
Italy and Argentina now share a similar level of respect for their wines. The Italians clear consider wine to be their national drink, and Argentina followed suit in 2010 when the Argentine Government gave that same designation to its own wines.
We’ve made several comparisons between Italy and both America and Argentina throughout the article, so we’ll round things off with a couple more points. The most obvious of these is that Italy has a much more extensive history of wine cultivation than either country, with records dating back over a thousand years demonstrating cultivation of various grapes.
All three countries hold the distinction of falling within the list of the top ten wine producers in the world, with Italy coming out on top with its first place position.
Italy’s wine growing regions also offer more variety, thanks to the presence of different soil types and the various climates. Furthermore, due to the revered nature of wine in Italy, you’ll generally find many smaller producers mixed in with the real big hitters.
The Final Word
All three countries have great and flourishing wine industries, though some are certainly older than others. While Italy perhaps carries the greatest prestige, there’s no denying the fact that American, and more recently Argentinian, wines can rival their Italian counterparts when it comes to quality.
If you want to find out more of the differences for yourself, check the Xtrawine website. We stock wines from all three countries for your perusal.