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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Fly on the Wall

Fine Local Wines, from Canada,
South American 'Cone,' to USA West Coast

By Don Merlot
[Writers Clearinghouse News Service]

Montevideo, UruguayI've been busy going from port to port collecting new wine growth news. Wine in general where ever I go is doing well in the Americas (the New World) menus. There is a vibrant feeling from the Pacific Northwest (North America) to the Southern Atlantic (South America) that wine expectations are focused on value and pocket book budgets. But quality is still first.

During a recent trip to Canada, I ran into a very pleasant wine country. Canadian wine vineyards in Kalowna, BC, are really flexing their muscles and vineyards have tripled in the last 36 months. On my first visit to Penticton, BC, I will never forget dropping out of the Rockies and coming to the Okanagan Lake and marveling what a beautiful patch of nature.

For geographers looking for new terroir (wine) targets here we were at that 50th parallel in Central British Columbia. One could be in Switzerland or Germany and see such a patchwork of wineries. This sitting, no less, next to northern Washington State and Idaho. (We recall that the 50th parallel crosses Europe where Champagne and Alsace are located in France.) That does not guarantee success, but it is an excellent launching pad.

The Okanagan valley has one of the most beautiful settings on the lake and it is Paradise reincarnated.

Western Canada has become very pluralistic. Pan Asian food and wines are new in metro areas like Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary. The varietals that are most sought after are the European stock types: Riesling, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. On the coast seafood is very popular, and times have added a splash of Asian spices and/or Indian spices. Okanagan vintners do not export a lot of their wine as it is consumed locally by the restaurants in Vancouver and Victoria.

There has been a large immigration into western Canada of Chinese, filipinos, Indians, and Pakistani. From the East Caribbean: Jamaican and Haitian. The great news for the wine drinker is that there is a Canadian wine that goes with each one of these cuisines. The reds are merlot, pinot noir, shiraz, and some great blends of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. Taxes on wine are very high, but if you get a chance to visit or see a bottle from the Okanagan, despite cost, give it a second thought.

Grilling beef as in steaks and roasts that match up to wine and compete for world desire to have the right match up, then Canada has its perfect marriage in western Canada with the pinot noir of Quail Ridge and Alberta beef tenderloin. This especially, in the US and Canada where the famous Alberta beef matches up with the best reds of the West.

My next stop was in Uruguay, not knowing what to expect. I tried hard to get rid of any preconception I had about the southern part of South America. El Cono or the cone -– Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, and Paraguay. Castilian speakers are aware of the double “l” and “Y” sound differences, and need to remember to focus on the differences –- and not the similarities.

On my visit to Montevideo, I was introduced to another first for me. During my first lunch, I was introduced to a new grape: I was served the varietal Tannat with Uruguay’s noble Bife parillada, the national dish. It was a huge wine, and I experienced a wine epiphany –- a muscular, but not an over powering red. I had plenty of tannin, but, at the same time, it was a smooth as silk. The chef -– master chef -– prepared a meal for a king. Beef tenderloin made “al punto” (to the point) “con poco de sangre.” Truly one of the best pieces of beef I have ever eaten. Though the the wine was, as I said, of the Tannat varietal, but I never heard of it. I had to wait to Google it.

Uruguayan vintners are betting that this wine will make this the No. 1 varietal of Uruguay wine and best match for its famous cuisines. I have the impression they are betting the farm on this one.

Argentina has its malbec, Chile has carmenere, and now Uruguay has the tannat. I thought of the USA and its choice of beef and wine: the culinary state duo and I think that all the experts got into an argument and nothing was decided. But I remember American wine back in the ‘70’s was pretty much Zinfandel. This was before some digital techie made sure analog guys lie me were told that this Zinfandel was primitivo.

California Zinfandel is without peer. Pimitivo is a blender and has no real character (today at least). But Zinfandel has made a comeback and 'to each his own.' If you're hosting a foreign guest, do not be afraid to serve him American beef paired with California Zinfandel.

French Basque immigrants to Uruguay brought Tannat with them from the southwest of France. It is found as the Madiran AC in French wine AOC hierarchy. It is rich and powerful, but very drinkable. The varietal has been used to blend with cabernet sauvignon. Uruguay vintners are creating a single grape varietal culture. In France, tannat is also used to make Armagnac, one of the finest brandies in the world.

My mentors taught me that I should learn something new every day. It certainly was a day to remember when I found a new wine in a country that was previously largely unknown to me. I researched the wine in libraries to learn more about the new wine, and recognized how difficult it must be for the wine purveyor, or the grower to market a new wine.

(Don Merlot, the pen name of Ron Alonzo, is a Chevalier, Confrérie Des Chevaliers du Tastevin, depuis 1991; and a Professionnel de la Table, Chaine des Rotisseurs).

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