Wine is Not a Cocktail
During the process of speaking about wine tasting to customers, or teaching a class about wine tasting, the issue of European wines vs "new world" wines comes up often (and admittedly I am often the one driving the topic in that direction). It bears talking about because of the overall different styles the wines have. As I've written here before, we are comparing a wine culture (Europe) that goes back many centuries and even millennia, to one that may have started a century or two ago, but only came into its own in the last forty years! This fact has given Europe's wine culture a lot of time, both to evolve and to develop strong traditions steeped in history. A basic fact about viticulture and location comes very much into play here.
Compare this to the new world. California's first vinifera grapevines (read my recent vinifera post) were planted by Spanish Catholic missionaries. Later, more were brought over from Europe in the 19th century. The point is though, that the land masses were vast, there was comparatively less volatility in the political situation, and guess what: the WEATHER IS BETTER in the places they chose to plant. The more sunlight and warmth there is where the grapes are growing, the more natural sugars and flavor compounds the grapes will develop while on the vine. For world class wines to result though, warmth is not enough. Grapes can also be ruined by too much warmth. They need periods of cool to develop an attractive amount of acidity as well as complexity of flavor. So again, the process of finding the ideal spots to plant takes place. But in the new world, there are simply more choices, and more room to experiment.
|Europe has Been in a State of Flux All of Its History: Until Now (hopefully)|
Europe's vineyards are planted largely within regions that were under the control and protection of some national, aristocratic, or church entity. Countries were constantly in competition with each other, if not outright war. It just wasn't a very stable situation, nor was it safe to travel very far. Under these conditions, you planted your grape vines where you could. The choices were fewer, and everybody--incessantly driven to grow grapes and make wine it seems--found the best spots that they could within their own confines. Given this limitation, I'd say many of them did surprisingly well. Some of the world's most cherished wines are European wines grown on land that was found out by these people so long ago.
The resulting wines tend to have a bigger style, more fruit intensity, more tannins where appropriate, and richer on the palate. I have little doubt that in a blind tasting, the average American wine drinker is likely to prefer a California Merlot over a similarly priced French Merlot--even a right bank Bordeaux Superieur. They are simply more obviously gratifying because they have more fullness right up front. The initial impact--when enjoyed by themselves--is a more complete taste experience.
So does that make these wines "better"? I'll leave you with that question for now.
Next time: Wine in Not a Cocktail: Wine with Food
-- Marc Soucy, FWS CSWMarc Wine Blog