Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES Sept 19, Part Two
Back to (New World) Wine School
by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo MS and Sara d’Amato
VINTAGES theme for the Sept 19 release is “Ontario Wine, The Full Package” – with includes a fairly large cache of 24 wines. Here at WineAlign we taste and review a ton of Ontario wine, and we write about Ontario’s best wines all the time. This particular grouping however – with exception of the Norman Hardie and Keint-He offerings and a couple of gamays discussed last week – is a middle-of-the-road selection in terms of quality and value, most at about $20 and scoring in the good to very good 86-88 point range. So we have arrived at what we thought was a more useful theme: Back to Old School, which John covered last week, and Back to New School, which I stickhandle this week.
There are new wine enthusiasts joining WineAlign daily, and some back-to-basics discussion is befitting now and again. And it is back to school time. So if you are a long time reader you might want to skip on to our recommendations now. If a bit of coaching or re-tooling seems appropriate, pour a glass of something New World and read on.
The Old World is Europe, the New World is all other. That is the simplest differentiation. But of course wine is never simple (or we wouldn’t be so intrigued). John deftly covered many of the nuances of this geographic divide last week, but to quickly re-iterate from my perspective – the classic Old World regions have a multi-generational heritage of making wine in a style that is built upon a) cooler climate higher acid, lower alcohol profile – in central Europe at least – and b) aged/oxidative/earthier/non-fruity winemaking born before temperature control and tannin management was possible. John goes into much more depth on this. But the end result is that Europe has grown up with an Old World palate that is as deeply, culturally embedded as any of its classic regional cuisines. And if you have grown up with something, and it’s all you know, then it is right – n’est-ce pas?
Well, a whole generation of post-war consumers outside of Europe have not had the same indoctrination. Some of us that took up the grape before the mid-90s still learned and revered Old World wines because they dominated the shelves, and collectors cellars, and commanded the highest prices. We needed to understand it, and be impressed, and I am so grateful that I understand Old World wine having travelled Europe countless times. But we were not so culturally inculcated that we would never consider the charm, gratification and deliciousness of New World wine. The next generation of wine drinkers since 2000 have latched onto New World wine big time, almost to the exclusion of Old World wines. And I too have travelled the New World countless times in more recent years, and totally enjoy and understand New World wine.
New World wine style is largely defined by grapes being grown in warmer climates where riper fruit creates wine with lower acid, higher alcohol, and more pronounced fruit (not savoury) flavours. There are such warm places in Europe as well, but most were historically deemed second or third class regions, largely because winemaking had not yet found a way to make good quality wine from overripe grapes (other than through fortification). So it wasn’t until hot climate, New World sites were being planted in the late 70s and 80s that things really began to change, largely because new technology was also making great strides to boost drinkability, and importantly, drinkability without the necessity to age. The wines were more balanced at the outset.
The technology was far reaching. Cooling systems allowed lower temperature fermentation that preserved freshness and fruitiness. Roto-fermenters and other processes allowed for gentler flavour extraction with reduced tannin astringency and bitterness. Finer filtration systems made cleaner more stable wines. New yeast strains better fermented higher sugars at lower temperature, and introduced heightened fruit and floral aromatics. And because the wines had more body and flavour intensity, they also stood up to more oak. The use of new oak and highly toasted oak became widespread, and New World wine fans soaked it up.
The main criticism of New World wine – largely by Old Schoolers – is that the wine is just too obvious – a blunt instrument delivering fruit and varietal character, and oak, ahead of all else. Especially ahead of terroir and place – the heart of the matter in Europe where wine is known and labelled not by grape but the village and vineyard it comes from.
Well, the argument that New World wine negates terroir is just not true, or even logical. I would argue firstly that a warm climate style is every bit as valid as cool climate style – both simply reflect a different physical origin and place on the planet. Secondly and more importantly, I would argue that it is respect for origin, plus the skill and ability to exact quality viticulture and winemaking, that allows terroir to be featured in the glass, not climate (or lack of technology).
In other words New World wine is as terroir-driven as Old. I have recently published a lengthy piece identifying 22 pinot noir sub-regions in New Zealand. And all of them make wine that is fruitier and higher alcohol than most pinots from Burgundy. I can identify Barossa in the glass versus McLaren Vale or Margaret River in Australia. There is a difference between Uco Valley and Lujan de Cuyo in Argentina; between St. David’s Bench and Beamsville Bench in Niagara; between Okanagan Falls and Osoyoos in B.C.
New World regions are madly examining their terroir and creating appellations as we speak, which makes the New World even more vital and fascinating than the well-established Old. Although if more European regions climbed out of their regulatory shells to experiment with other grapes… as Tuscany so deftly did in the 80s and 90s???
It’s important to underscore, again, that I am talking here about wines of good quality. There is an ocean of commercial, low quality New World wine that exaggerates fruitiness, softness, oakiness and increasingly sweetness. It is not much fun to drink. But not because it is New World. There is also an ocean of cheap Old World wine that features lack of fruit, tartness, excessive dryness and earthiness (and calls it terroir), that is also not much fun to drink. But not because it is Old world. It is simply average wine. When you start to raise the winemaking bar terroir comes into focus.
So the answer for wine lovers is to drink better, as often as you can afford to do so. There you will find the differences between Old and New World wines beginning to narrow and harmonize. And finding those higher quality, good value wines – expressive of terroir – is always the goal at WineAlign.
Here are New World selections:
Robert Mondavi 2012 Reserve Chardonnay Carneros, California ($47.00)
David Lawrason – At first I was taken aback by its power and richness, but once adjusted to the volume, I was able to focus on its incredibly well knit, satiny texture and profound depth and complexity of flavour. In the complex mix there is a sense of acidity that the cooler Carneros region brings to the table.
John Szabo – It would be hard to pick a more representative house for the new school – Robert Mondavi pretty much built it. But there’s more than a nod and a wink back to the old school in this big but balanced wine, stuffed full of fruit and expensive wood, which in turn is fitted into a French-designed straight jacket. Give it a couple of years to wiggle its way out. Best 2017-2022.
Sara d’Amato – Robert Mondavi brought old world to the new world and new world to the old world and thus sits somewhere in the middle in terms of style. The use of old world techniques such as a preference for French oak and the complexity that is brought with wild yeast fermentation is quite apparent in these age-worthy and sophisticated wines. Robert Mondavi has always aspired to raising the bar in California and “stand in the company of the world’s finest” – both old world and new. However, there is something distinctly new world about this wine as well in terms of its power, its ripeness and its pure, forthright fruit. It may straddle the line but regardless, it is certainly worth praising.
Tabalí 2013 Reserva Viognier, Limari Valley, Chile ($13.95)
John Szabo – I love the intense, varietally accurate aromatics here; you can taste the pure sunshine, though kept cool and fresh by some SPF 60 winemaking. The Limarí Valley is one of my favourite white wine regions in Chile, and value here is unbeatable.
David Lawrason – This is brilliant – a bit high in alcohol – but that works with viognier and the price is unbeatable.
Kew Vineyards 2013 Organic Riesling, VQA Beamsville Bench, Ontario ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – Punchy, tropical and inviting, this organic riesling from Ontario exhibits welcoming new world character offering wide appeal yet packs a punch. A wine that was highlighted at the latest Wine Awards of Canada, it was able to charm both judges who are more traditionalist and those who find favor in the progressive the original.
Villa Wolf 2014 Pinot Blanc, Pfalz, Germany ($14.95)
David Lawrason – New World winemaking that glorifies fruit purity and expression is now, thankfully, rampant among European white wines, elevating many long ignored “minor” whites. This German pinot blanc is a perfect example, a very bright, fresh and fruity example generous peach, banana fruit typical of the variety. It’s medium weight, fleshy and just a touch sweet but maintains some freshness due to Germanic acidity and a touch of spritz.
Les Lunelus 2014 Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, Loire, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then New Zealand should be feeling the love. The success of the grassy, vivacious style of NZ sauvignon blanc has caused the old world to take note and we are now seeing more and more of these distinctive and widely appealing styles of sauvignon blanc from France. Albeit, the wine does not deliver a real connection to the region but it is an excellent example of this style of wine that has taken the world by storm.
Matanzas Creek 2012 Chardonnay, Sonoma County, California ($29.95)
John Szabo – Matanzas Creek has turned out a stylish, sensible, nicely balanced, fresh, fruity and succulent chardonnay, with modest oak influence and plenty of ripe but fresh orchard fruit. This has class and concentration above the mean, technically spot-on.
Marimar 2012 Mas Cavalls Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, California ($42.95)
David Lawrason – This single site pinot from Miramar Torres’ Doña Margarita Vineyard is very rich, smooth, intense and expressive with oodles of Sonoma pinot’s ripe raspberry pie fruit plus evergreen (from surrounding vegetation?) and meaty character. Burgundy lovers will find it over the top; but Sonoma pinot lovers should be ecstatic. John Szabo – A fine pinot that nicely captures the ripeness and generosity of the West Coast, while retaining a sense of stately grace. Evident quality; archetypal Sonoma. Best 2015-2020.
Penfolds 2013 Bin 2 Shiraz Mataro, Barossa Valley, Australia ($24.95)
David Lawrason – Of all the Australian producers, Penfolds is the most likely to appeal to Old World wine drinkers. They have captured a certain solid, not too obvious sensibility in their entire range. This shows lifted mint, blackberry/blueberry fruit, pepper, iodine and chocolate – quite fetching. It’s very full bodied, dense and fairly smooth with youthful tannin and considerable warmth.
Sara d’Amato – This Shiraz/Mataro blend is a distinctively balanced, aromatic and keenly produced new world find. The best of the new world is exhibited here: a plush, fruit forward profile, just the right amount of spice and a lingering, memorable finish (all at under $25).
Domaine Eric & Joel Durand 2012 Empreintes Cornas, Rhône Valley, France ($46.95)
John Szabo – This wine turned up last week, but here it is again (controversially?) in my New School list. Classic Cornas fans don’t despair; this has abundant savoury, smoky, spicy-meaty character. But relative to the ultra old school (Auguste Clape, Noel Verset, Domaine Jamet come to mind), this comes across as thoroughly modern, clean, even lightly reductive, with evident wood influence and bold, ultra-ripe fruit, relatively speaking. Call it the best of both worlds. Best after 2018.
H & B Roussillon 2012 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ($24.95)
Sara d’Amato – The wines of the Languedoc are certainly forward, bold and often, new world in style and here is a case-and-point example. Bold and impactful, plummy and jammy – there is ripeness here and a fruit forward palate. Giving the wine some sense of place, however, are Mediterranean notes of black olive and sundried tomato and a savory finish.
Cristobal 1492 Barrel Selection 2012 Shiraz, Mendoza, Argentina ($15.95)
David Lawrason – This very New World shiraz fuelled a stylistic like/don’t like debate among tasters in VINTAGES lab. I have elevated its score based on complexity, syrah varietal character and depth of flavour – delivering far better than expected on those counts. And yes it is full, soft, rich, fruity and warm – very New World.
Rompesedas 2006 Toro, Spain ($19.95)
John Szabo – “New Spain” is known for its bold, modern reds, and despite nearly a decade, this 2006 is still deeply coloured, offering plenty of deep, dark, red and mostly black fruit character, loads of extract, and a thick, firm, concentrated palate. This could pass for a much more expensive (new world) wine, properly aged, with excellent complexity and depth. Best 2015-2020.
Trapiche 2010 Terroir Series Orellana De Escobar Malbec, La Consulta, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina ($39.95)
David Lawrason – Hailing from a single vineyard in the higher altitude of La Consulta, a sub-region of the southern Uco Valley, this has a certain richness and elegance. It’s crammed with florals, bright red raspberry/mulberry fruit, thyme, tea and fine oak. Quite smooth, elegant and focused with shrubby garrigue and vanilla on the finish.
Achaval Ferrer 2013 Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($25.95)
John Szabo – This malbec, too, balances the best of both worlds, launching in a particularly fragrant, floral, violet-scented, pure style, characteristic of Achaval Ferrer. Wood is not a factor, though in this vintage acids are more prominent than usual (acetic), giving this a bit of old world rusticity, for the better. Best 2015-2019.
Astrolabe Valleys 2013 Wairau Valley Pinot Noir, Wairau Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand ($23.95)
David Lawrason – Marlborough pinot noir has a quite distinctive raspberry scent common to pinots from moderate to warmer climates. It’s also fairly supple and smooth in texture, common to pinots from the stony silt soils of the Wairau Valley sub-region. This is a quite delicious, well balanced young New World pinot.
Bodega Paiman 2012 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Valle De Chañarmuyo, La Rioja, Argentina ($18.95)
Sara d’Amato – There are many wine lovers turned off by the term “new world” and an immediate association with that term are the wines of Argentina. However, there is more diversity in these wines than most expect and the labels that we now see are starting to indicate just that. In this case, the cabernet comes from the region of La Rioja, just north of Mendoza, lower in elevation, hotter in temperature but a perfect spot for this thick skinned, sun-seeking varietal. The value of the new world is nicely exemplified here.
Domaine De La Madone 2014 Le Perréon Beaujolais Villages, Beaujolais, France ($14.95)
Sara d’Amato – This abundantly fruity gamay is playful and immensely appealing. Although the grape varietal most notably finds its home in the southern Burgundian appellation of Beaujolais, it is branching out in new locales throughout the new world. The Le Perréon is seductive with slippery texture and meant for immediate consumption.
And that’s a wrap for this rather long edition. We hope you have found it useful if not illuminating. From here onward VINTAGES releases get bigger and bigger, and we will do our best to keep up.
VP of Wine
From VINTAGES Sept 19, 2015
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