One Sip At A Time – Old World vs. New World Reds

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This month, our One Sip At A Time class focused on red wines, but with an added twist.  You have probably heard sommeliers and retailers like us go on and on about ‘Old World’ character or something being from the ‘New World,’ but what the heck does that actually mean?  Last Thursday, we spent the evening answering that question.

France, Italy, Spain, and the rest of Western Europe make up the Old World, according to most people, while the New World is basically everywhere else: the United States, Argentina, New Zealand, and, more recently, countries whose wine industries are still in their infancy like India and Canada.

To understand the influence climate and winemaking styles have on red wines, we tasted the same varietals or similar blends side by side, with the Old World example first and the New World second.

We started with Jean Michel Guillon’s 2011 Bourgogne Rouge, a classic example of Old World Pinot Noir, with its higher acidity and longer maceration with the grape skins, giving the wine a bit more tannin.  The Calera Pinot Noir that came after was much more lush and fruit forward, and a bit lighter in color and tannin.  Both delicious, balanced wines, but clearly very different!

Next we moved on to Bordeaux varietals.  The 2010 Ch Ducasse Graves Rouge served as a much more mineral, austere counterpoint to the smooth, lavishly oaked The Teacher from Thurston Wolfe in Washington State.  While the Graves would shine with food, The Teacher was pretty darn delicious all by itself!

For Rhone blends, we chose two benchmark producers.  For our Old World example, we had Guigal’s 2009 Cotes du Rhone blend, a meatier, more Syrah-heavy style.  Then it was on to Paso Robles, for Tablas Creek’s Patelin du Tablas Rouge.  Owned by the Perrin family of Ch de Beaucastel fame, the Tablas Rouge shows just how much influence climate and terroir has over the finished wine, since the winemaking method and even the cuttings used to plant the vineyards, are all from the Rhone Valley in France.

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Our final pair we tasted blind, and it was a very surprising set of wines indeed.  Almost everyone was fooled by the Guild 6 Rhone-style blend, assuming that because of its lighter body and higher acidity it was from the Old World, rather than Washington State, where it’s from.  And If You See Kay, a full-throttle fruit-bomb from Lazio in Italy, was a dead-ringer for a California red blend.

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So while terroir and tradition usually have a big influence over the style of a wine, where there’s a will, there’s a way!  Thanks to everyone who attended our One Sip At A Time class for May – your participation and questions are what make these classes so much fun.

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