Big & Cuddly or Lean & Elegant?
- The good news: Not only have you been enjoying wine lately, it’s actually good FOR you!
- The bad news: You can’t describe what you like about wine and all of the terminology is confusing to you.
- The solution: Take the first step towards finding Mr(s) Right by determining if you have a new-world or old-world palate.
Profile of a Palate.
Imagine a body builder, you choose the gender. This gym rat sports huge guns and looks bulky in business attire, but what a great physique. Sadly when you start chatting, you realize there’s no depth….one-dimensional. This is a bias description of new-world wine too: big, rich and sometimes even sweet, but often a bit clunky. Old-world wine, on the other hand, is like a handsome gentleman from Paris…..exotic and graceful, with a chiseled face and toned, long, elegant muscles. But in chatting, he may seem hard to approach, and difficult to understand.
Understanding this stylistic difference narrows down your purchase choices considerably. It’s the second question you should ask yourself, after “red wine or white, tonight?”
Here are some technical differences:
- Traditionally, old-world wines are from Europe, new-world wines are from the America’s, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa…everywhere else.
- New-world wines traditionally come from warmer climate growing areas, resulting in grapes that yield:
- more ripeness
- more sugar, less acid
- higher alcohol
- full-bodied, rich wines
- New-world wines are subject to more manipulation by the winemaker, regardless of where they’re grown. This aspect is often the essence of their modernity.
- Old-world wines are thought of as terroir-driven; they undergo a more hands-off approach, and thus taste more like the vineyard:
- location and particular grape varieties have worked well together for centuries
- producers take advantage of wild yeast to inspire fermentation
Enough of the Geek-dom: Let your palate do the judging and determine if you are a new-world or old- world kind of sipper. There are numerous excellent representations of each style on the market. Pick up a bottle, and ‘play’ along! We’d love to hear your preference.
Below are the highlights of our experimenting with Cabernet Franc, and with the reality that new-world wines are being made in the old-world, and vice versa.
2005 Olga Raffault Chinon “Les Picasses”, 13% alc, $25
2010 Duemani “CiFRA” Costa Toscana, 14% alc, $33
Both wines are 100% Cabernet Franc, grown organically (The Tuscan is farmed biodynamically), and are raised in tank and/or cement (no oak). Chinon is thought to be the most appropriate place in Loire Valley where the native French variety is cultivated. The example here is the more traditionally-styled of the two wines. By contrast, the Cabernet Franc from Tuscany, where the grape is “alien”, or an outsider, is made in a bolder, more dramatic style, and is the more modern of the two old-world wines.
The Chinon: A very “organic” bouquet lays the framework. There is cinnamon, cherries, tar, cigar tobacco, celery, and funky brettanomyces (mind you, these are all common, desirable attributes). It’s medium-bodied and rustic on the palate, with savory flavors of mint and meat blood, plus lean acids and subtle tannins. Alongside white pizza w/sausage and broccoli rabe, the wine is tamed, becoming a cohesive unit. While with potato and leek soup, this wine fleshes out and becomes the soup’s textural equal. In either case, the wine works laterally with the food, becoming a functional counterpart, rather than a contrasting beverage.
The Tuscan: This wine smells provocatively of baking spices (cinnamon, cocoa powder), currants, Amaretto, and blackberry jam. The flavors, driven by ripe acids, remind of blueberry, sage, and sweet wheatgrass. As part of the meal, this is the shocker…it performs better! It holds up to the fat and intensity of flavor in the pizza, and it completes the picture when sipped with the soup. Neither of the dishes is particularly full of animal fat, and likewise, neither wine offers an “animal” component in the way that, for instance, Syrah or Pinotage would. Although the pairings are not sommelier-perfect, the wines are more appropriate with these foods than any more obvious choices would be. It exposes the versatility and true purpose of the great Cab Franc varietal.
2008 Herman J Wiemer Cabernet Franc Reserve, Finger Lakes, NY, 12.5% alc, $27
2006 Camaraderie Cabernet Franc, Washington State, 14.7% alc, $20
Here we are in the new-world, with two Cab Francs from the northern stretches of the United States. The New York State vineyard is in a somewhat cooler climate than the Washington State, and it shows in the wines; Wiemer is clearly the “old-world wine from the new-world”, where the Camaraderie is a “Cab Franc contemporary”.
The West Coast: The exuberance of this WA State example screams modern, yet it sports classic Franc aromatics of bittersweet chocolate, bell pepper, and unsweetened cocoa, reminding of Loire Valley, France. The palate is rich and glorious, with soft, integrated tannins, leathery flavors, and a forever finish, all held together by serious acidity. This is well-married with the flavors and textures in the pizza (particularly with the sausage component), while there is not as much magic with the soup.
The East Coast: That is where the Wiemer comes into play, with its slightly more rustic aromas of orange zest, cardamom, tea leaf, violets, cigar tobacco, and chalky/slatey earth. Much more chiseled and austere on the tongue than the WA State wine, with a drier attack, it has a breeze of a time pairing with both dishes, effortlessly bringing out the flavors in the food that lie beneath the fats.
The Conclusion: Although new-world wine is more often thought of as a beverage to be consumed outside of the meal, where old-world wine is thought of as an integral part of the meal, the educated and creative wine consumer can fashion superb food pairings for each type of juice. While Cabernet Franc remains one of the most versatile and underappreciated varietals produced…..the unsung hero of the wine world, old and new…..you will find, if you search smartly, countless other varietal wines to serve your preferences. And remember, once you’ve determined that your palate is either old-world or new, never stop experimenting with the other side. Our palates have switched back and forth over the years, and yours surely will as well.