The world of wine is split into two. The ‘Old’ and the ‘New’. Basically the Old World is Europe where grapes have been continuously cultivated for hundreds, even thousands of years. The New World has a shorter wine history and has relied on inspiration from the Old World to establish their wine industries. There are 3 major Old World wine producers, France, Italy and Spain and wine from each of these three vinous giants can be found everywhere in the world where the fermented juice is consumed. Yet the important grape varieties grown in the New World invariably come from France. In time this may change but as it currently stands the French have not only successfully exported some of their finest wine they have been incredibly successful at exporting their finest grape varieties.
The USA is the largest wine producer of the New World and has a diverse industry however it is dominated by one state, California, and in this so-called sunshine state Cabernet Sauvignon is omnipresent and particularly the produce of its Napa Valley is well known around the world. The most expensive and revered wines from the USA are Napa Valley Cabernets and some command staggering prices and almost religious reverence. Some of these wines are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon whilst others have a smaller amount of complimentary varieties such as Merlot. The wine of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and associated blends is characterized by a fruity sweetness, and they are generally full bodied, rich and rounded. In the Old World of France Cabernet Sauvignon is most comfortable in Bordeaux where it is blended with other varieties but in the left bank region which is located on the Western side of the Gironde River most of the grapes grown here on the gravelly soil are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. The most famous communes that make wine that is usually about 80% Cabernet Sauvignon are Margaux, Paulliac, Graves and St Estephe and many of the worlds most desirable wines are grown in these communes. The Bordeaux wines are not particularly sweet and juicy as they typically tread a fine line between angular vegetable characters, notably olives with a firm and tight tannic finish. They are a little tough when they are young but blossom with maturity into superb and powerful lingering giants.
Argentina has also looked towards the South West of France for its vinous flagship. But instead of the obvious they have turned to a more obscure variety. Malbec is grown in Bordeaux where it is a minor but important component of many a fine Chateau blend. It is further to the South and East that the region of Cahors makes Malbec its star, except they call it by the traditional local name, Cot. It soon became apparent that Malbec was ideally suited to the Argentinian environment and some quality wines were made and the quality continues to improve. Argentinian Malbec is plummy, juicy and a bold wine with plenty of body at the finish but it is usually soft enough to drink and enjoy as a young wine. Cot from Cahors is inky, deep and quite savoury with firm lingering tannins that require the wine to be laid down in the cellar for several years before it is truly ready to drink.
Australia makes up the other large New World wine producer and again the wine industry can be summed up in a single grape variety and this is Shiraz. The style of Australian Shiraz varies throughout the country as there is great variation in climate however the most famous region as far as the rest of the world is concerned is the famed Barossa Valley in South Australia and the style of Shiraz produced here is very distinctive and a long way removed from its ancestral home of the Northern Rhone Valley in France. Aussie Shiraz is super ripe and warm to hot with alcohol and more often than not it is wrapped in a cloak of spicy coconut American oak. The finest examples of this style are made from exceedingly old vines, in many cases over 100 years old that are un-trellised and fondly referred to locally as “bush vines”. In the Rhone Valley the variety is called Syrah and it is made into a single varietal wine that has a unique combination of perfume and delicacy that can even be mistaken for Burgundy in blind tastings. Sometimes a small amount of Viognier grape variety is blended in the cooler northerly region of Cote Rotie to further enhance the perfume and give the wine a little extra body. Barossa Valley Shiraz needs no such supplement.
A few other New World countries also owe a lot to single varieties.
In New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough has been a huge commercial success and dominates production, whilst dividing critics and industry professionals. Some critics believe that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is the best in the world, inheriting the best characters of its two geographical antecedents, in that it captures the steely chalky edge of France’s Loire Valley and wraps it up in a fresh juicy mouth-filling crunchiness that screams of the alluvial clay of Marlborough. Other critics are less than complimentary about the merits of the variety however the wine drinking public cannot be denied, as they love it.
South Africa has a large industry with several significant grape varieties although there is no doubt that Chenin Blanc is the most important variety. Today half of the world’s plantings are found in South Africa. Chenin Blanc is versatile in that it can be made as a fragrant dry wine or a rich sweet dessert style. The dry wines from South Africa tend to show riper fruit characters than their French counterparts, also grown in the Loire Valley, that typically are redolent of tart green apples. All the wines possess the persistent metallic acid that adds length to the wine’s aftertaste and overall quality. This acid is critical in providing the foundation for the luscious dessert wines that can be made from the variety. Whilst South Africa has produced some lovely dessert Chenin Blancs they have yet to truly match the glorious richness of great sweet wines of Vouvray in the Loire Valley.
Generally wine made from the same grape variety in the New World will be fruitier, riper with a softer finish than the comparable French wine. New World wine is typically ready to drink in its youth whilst the French wine needs to spend several years in the cellar before it is at its best. There are a few reasons for this. Most importantly the climate is generally warmer in the New World grape growing regions with more sunshine that assists ripening. Also there are differences in the soil composition. In France many of the vineyards are planted on beds of limestone and this aids the development of savoury flavours and tannin in the skins of the grapes. Limestone is not quite so prevalent throughout the New World viticultural regions.
The future is exciting as New World producers search for the ideal grape varieties for their vineyards. Plantings of Italian and Spanish varieties will grow as the producers look towards matching climates and soils. The current situation highlights the differences between the growing environments, as it is hard to confuse New World and Old World wines made from the same variety. In the future these differences may well be less obvious.
One very important grape variety has been omitted from discussion so far. Chardonnay is very much the elephant in the room. It is the chameleon of the grape variety world in that it seems to adapt and flourish wherever it is grown. It may not be the most widely planted variety in any of the New World countries but it probably is the second most important variety in each of the countries. Despite the success all around the world there are precious few Chardonnay wines from the New World that rival the style and depth of the finest Old World Chardonnays from the Burgundy region. We should all celebrate the difference of these wines and not criticise New World wines because they are not copies of the real deal from the Old World. As the French say…”vive la difference!”
Grant Van Every，澳大利亚葡萄酒与美食作家、葡萄酒咨询顾问，担任过酿酒师及侍酒师、葡萄酒大赛裁判等工作。
Grant Van Every, Australian wine and food writer, wine consultant, used to be a winemaker, sommelier and judge in various wine competitions etc.