I have always had a soft spot for French wines, made worse by the fact I lived in Paris for three years. In those days most French shops only sold French wines and it was frowned upon to drink anything else. Not that I am complaining, after all, there are worse things to drink. But still, to this day, I always veer towards Old World wines, preferring to believe a set of self-imposed myths about New World wines. Is it time to rethink?
To clarify, ‘Old World’ generally refers to Europe and the Middle East, countries where winemaking originated. The New World defines countries (mostly Southern Hemisphere) where the winemaking tradition was introduced by European settlers. Old World ‘purists’ tend to favour European wines in the belief that they are produced in ancient wineries where the concept of ‘terroir’ is intrinsic to their winemaking. This is the idea that wine made in a particular place is unique to that place, which I admit is an idea I have fallen for hook, line and sinker.
It’s certainly true that European wines tend to be produced in cooler climates, which can result in greater levels of complexity but the increasing trend for cool-climate New World styles is turning this train of thought on its head. So in my quest to ignite a love of New World wines, here are six self-imposed myths that I’d like to forget:
You have to spend more on a New World wine to get the same quality as Old World
Not true. The advantage that New World winemakers have is that they are not bound by tradition and rules. If something doesn’t work for them they can change it, or experiment with new ideas. Take the Jordan Chameleon Cabernet Merlot from South Africa. A blend of four grape varieties, the wine is aged in French oak and has both fruit and herbal notes to produce a wine of great quality that punches above its weight for its price.
New World wines are less complex than Old World wines
Winemakers in the New World often used to take little notice of ‘terroir’, that combination of soil and climate that has so much influence on the way a wine tastes. That has all changed as wine producers search out higher altitude vineyard sites that allow for greater complexity in the wine. Irrigation in the new world has also improved the quality of the wine, as canny vine growers have started to vary the amount of irrigation depending on the soil composition.Take The Pepper Pot Red from South Africa which blends five Rhône grape varieties to produce a wonderfully complex, spicy, red blend. A great example of a New World wine that has complexity far beyond its price range.
New world wines are too high in alcohol
It depends on the wine. Barossa Shiraz is a good example of a big, gutsy wine with a big hit of alcohol but lower alcohol wines are growing in popularity. Not low alcohol wines, that’s a different thing entirely. But wines with alcohol of no more than 12-13% ABV which allow the character of the grape to shine through. Take The Dreamer Viognier by Philip Shaw. It has 11.5% ABV, is grown at high altitudes meaning its resulting delicacy is rare among New World whites.
New World wines are too oaky
We all remember those over-oaked mass-produced Australian Chardonnays, but today’s winemakers are throwing fewer oak chips around. Most wines benefit from at least a small amount of contact with oak to add complexity and ageing potential but the trick is to retain the pure fruit character of the grape. The Weighbridge Unoaked Chardonnay from the Barossa Valley is a great example of an unoaked Aussie which displays its cool, citrusy flavours to perfection.
New World wines taste like fruit cordial
While you might still find the odd Californian wine with an over-ripe syrupy character, spend just a couple of pounds more per bottle and you’ll find gems such as the Napa Cellars Pinot Noir. Made from grapes sourced in the cooler south of the valley, underneath its initial fruit character lie beautiful earthy undertones and a wonderful depth of flavour.
New World wines are mass produced
Not all New World wines are produced in vast factory-like wineries. Take The Hedonist Tempranillo, a biodynamic wine from the McLaren Vale made in small batches from a grape variety normally found in Spain and aged in oak for a very short time. This is a truly unique wine made by a winemaker who is looking at the vineyard holistically and not from a purely commercial standpoint.
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