New World -- Old World
By Don Merlot
Junto Staff Writer
It was just about the time when I tried to figure out what wine I prefer: Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Zinfandel or Pinot Noir – red grapes or Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer or Pinot Grigio – the white varietal, when the wineries decided to throw out more grape varietals for us to savor. Although there is nothing wrong with something new, because unknown names are better values – great quality; great tastes; and great buys. But retailers do not want to hold drinkable wines in storage on their shelves too long so they price the new wines to hook us as quickly as possible.
There is an Old World saying that goes like this, "Everything changes and nothing changes." Wine varietals in the new World are new because in the USA we are still the new World, but think like the old world – exciting; We are new world dreamers: easy with food friendships; new frontiers; and we still have some loose change in our pockets but not much after October 2008. So the question is what kind of wine do I like? Sweet, dry, light, full, barrel age, not barrel aged - If you have not decided on the old world wines of yesteryear or the varietals grown in the new world, it may be time and recall a bit about your last few wine rendezvous.
Recall earlier lesson: At the racetrack (hippodrome). 'If everyone bet on the same horse, there would be no horse races.'
Wines in general enjoy this journey: If you like it, drink it. But, we all know that is difficult because some people like red, others white, or rosé: Dry or sweet, light, medium or full bodied; little alcohol, barrel aged or not barrel age.
We know that most of us like the expensive wines if it is special occasion: a birthday or celebration with vintage Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Champagne. But that is not in our everyday budget, and our favorite wine store or supermarket have done a great job of getting us our every day wines; California, Chilean and Washington red and whites are what most of can have as a special wine when we share with guests at home or at a restaurant a meal.
Before the crash of '08 it was a $15 – $30 wine was a sign of respect, and at a restaurant $25 - $40 was good, or we asked if you could bring you own bottle for a corkage fee.
Let's start in the Old World: those far away places, tucked a way in France there is a white wine that most people cannot pronounce so they will not order at a restaurant or consider buying it at a wine store.
Viognier – [vee-own-yay]. Originated in Northern Rhone and today is famous and savored there: It is the first famous white wine found down in southeast France outside of Lyon, as one drives through Vienne (an old world gastronomic center and Pontius Pilate's final assignment). One drives past Cote-Rôtie and you arrive at Chateau Grillet and the Condrieu district of the Northern Rhone – the wines are rare, very expensive and the barrel aged white wine. Ch. Grillet is for a very special occasion and it is served to the elite – and unlike similar whites from Condrieu it will age after 5 years in the bottle. This is the smallest AC (appellation Controlee) district in FRANCE. These wines enjoy a memorable flavor of any white wine - a musky scent of overripe apricots with that hint of spring flowers.
The Condrieu AC is growing as the wine becomes popular and its fragrance is of dry "Apricoty and peachy" fruits: best to drink young. This varietal is also grown in southern Rhone and in the new World in California and Australia. The new world locations offer sweet and dry Viognier. This wine is matched to a full bodied Chardonnay; and is paired to medium and heavy foods: Lobster (cream sauces), poultry, most cheeses, veal chops, pork chops, ravioli and stews. Unless you familiar with Viognier, I suggest you give it a taste test at home and with friends.
The Reds of the Northern Rhone are well known – Syrah (and in the new World Shiraz – Australia) so we will travel south and change climates to the Southern Rhone area. The wines are blended, but one varietal sticks out for us to make sure it is part of the red repertoire: Grenache (Gren-AHSH). This red is light to medium in a Mediterranean climate; flavors of raspberries and currants. The most famous chez des Vins are in Chateauneuf-du- Pape wines. Historically the name comes when the papacy dwelt in Avignon. It means "new house of the Pope". The Church tended to the vineyards and these classifications arose. The classical pairing is to look for a Roast Beef or Leg of Lamb. Try a beef fondue.
Granacha, the same varietal grape, is grown in Spain in Navarra or blended in other provinces. Priorato (pryaw-RAW-TOH) also listed as Priorato/Tarragona. This District is evolving quickly as one of Spain's top vineyards. Spain too likes this match to their red meat dishes.
(Don Merlot, Junto's food and drink columnist, lives in central Florida).