To make a statement in the world these days it seems you need to have a signature wine – a wine your region is known for and which you do better than anyone else. Such wines are based on a single grape variety: California has Zinfandel (and Napa has Cabernet Sauvignon), Australia has Shiraz, New Zealand has Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa Pinotage, Chile Carmenere, Argentina Malbec, Uruguay Tannat and Canada has Icewine.
You’ll have noticed that all of these locations are in so-called New World wine regions. The established regions of Europe – Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piedmont, Tuscany, Mosel and Rheingau, Rioja, Duoro – all have their signature wines but we don’t tend to single them out as such. Their reputations through long association are secure. If their wines fall out of favor with consumers beyond their own borders it is merely the fickle cycle of taste and in a few years they will be back in fashion once again.
But the New World has had a profound effect on how wines are made these days. Traditional winemaking practices in Europe produced wines that had to be laid down to age for several years before they came into balance. But the North American penchant for immediate gratification demanded wines that are accessible and table-ready. We don’t have time to wait for seven to ten years for a wine to mature. We want them now. A study was done in Canada which showed that the elapsed time between the purchase of a bottle of wine and the pulling of the cork was, on average, 54 minutes. People buy wine and bring it home for dinner that night.
To make such wines palatable, vintners have to make them fruit-forward with supple tannins and less aggressive acidity (acid gives wine its structure; it’s the skeleton and the fruit is the flesh). By pushing the fruit and softening the tannins you can make a wine that is table-ready but in the process you are losing elegance and balance. ‘Fruit bombs’ is a pejorative term to describe these wines but when Australia’s Yellow Tail Shiraz is a top-selling wine on the North American continent there is no contradicting the consumer palate.
In 1976 at the famous Paris blind tasting of California Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons against France’s fabled white Burgundies and red Bordeaux, eight French professional tasters placed a Californian wine top in both categories. A result that caused consternation in France. New World wines at their best can be very seductive with their luscious fruit and soft mouth feel; but when it comes to drinking them with a meal their richness can tire your palate after one glass. The elegant, well-balanced Burgundies and clarets served with the proper food invite a second glass.
New World winemakers are beginning to understand this and are moving away from the ‘fruit bombs’ to make less alcoholic (and less oaky) wines that actually complement food.
And that is the best signature of all.
STYLISH NEW WORLD WINES
DIEMERSDAL PINOTAGE 2012 (South Africa)
This wine shows a complex nose of red fruits, vanilla, exotic spices, and rich dark chocolate aromas. The palate is full flavoured and smoothly textured with oriental spice, chocolate and roasted banana flavours. Our pinotage is ready to drink, but will also benefit for another 5 years’ cellaring.
Food Match: Lamb, Hard Cheeses, Oxtail Stews, Cooked Tomato Dishes
CACHAPOAL CARMIN DE PEUMO CARMENÈRE 2003 (Chile)
This first release of Carmín delivers luscious red fruit and soft tannins, packed with scents of tobacco and herbs, refreshed by gentle acidity. Round and approachable now, the power of the fruit behind that velvety texture will continue to evolve into something more complex and intriguing in five to ten years.
Food Match: Barbeque, Middle-Eastern, Pasta, Red Meat, Spicy, Tapas, Venison
INNISKILLIN NIAGARA ESTATE SPARKING VIDAL ICEWINE 2011 (Canada)
Exotic fruits, peaches, oranges and honey dominate the nose of this unique icewine. The palate continues with citrus, mango, lychee and pineapple balanced by a crisp acidity and lively effervescence.
Food Match: Tuna Tartar, Fois Gras, Rich Cheeses from Brie to Blue, Fresh Fruit Desserts, Crème Brulee.
For more information on Tony Aspler: www.tonyaspler.com