Worlds of Wine: Great grapes flourish the world over
I was pouring some very impressive wines (older vintages, iconic brands) at a charity event recently, and had four reds and two whites available for tasting at any time. Most people surveyed the six bottles and chose one for their one-ounce sample, and many asked for information or a recommendation. But I was struck by the number of people who asked, not for a specific wine, but a category. Some wanted “the best wine.” Some wanted “the most expensive wine.” Others wanted “a French wine.”
They all make sense. Why wouldn’t you want to taste the best wine on offer ‑ although my idea of which of the six was “best” might not have been the one that anyone else liked drinking. And I understand the attraction of tasting the most expensive wine. Most people haven’t tried a $500 bottle of wine, and want to know if a wine that pricey is worth the cost.
But looking for a French wine (which implied any French wine) struck me as a bit odd. (One person did ask for a Spanish wine.) It reminded me of the days when French wine was considered the best in the world, and when you had to offer French wine if you wanted to impress.
That struck me years ago, in the 1990s, when I gave a public lecture in Texas. I mentioned to the organizers that I would like to taste Texas wine while I was there, and I was happy when I saw only Texas wine at the reception. But while I was thrilled to taste these wines, some guests were horrified, and told the organizers it was insulting to serve anything but French wine to a visiting lecturer.
Of course, the wine world has shifted on its axis since then.
Competition, especially from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, and California broke France’s sway over international wine markets in the early 2000s. (The new generation of Ontario wines was important in our market.) It wasn’t that French wine was bad, although some complacency had certainly set in, but the simple facts of novelty and competition re-shaped France’s market-share.
Wine consumers are attracted to new wines from new regions, which is a good thing; no one should be in a wine rut. So Australian shiraz and New Zealand sauvignon blanc were great hits. Then there was malbec from Argentina. Beneath these best-selling surges, there were smaller currents of popularity, like California cabernets and Chilean reds generally.
I love many French wines, and France’s great wine strengths include an unparalleled diversity of style. But today’s reality is that that there are more excellent wines from more countries and regions than ever before.
Mouton Cadet Reserve Blanc 2011
From the Bordeaux region of Graves, this versatile white blend goes very well with many poultry, pork, white fish and seafood dishes, as well as mild cheeses. Look for excellent balance here, as the consistent flavours are supported by clean, bright acidity. 12.5-per-cent alcohol; $15.25, but $13.25 until March 2 (247080)
Pérez Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2011
This very well-made cabernet is from the Maipo Alto appellation, the source of many of Chile’s great cabernets. You’ll find it has concentrated flavours that are complex and well structured, and finely calibrated acidity. It’s an excellent choice for red meats and hearty winter stews. 13.5-per-cent alcohol; $15.95 (311753)
l’Arjolle Sauvignon Blanc-Viognier 2012
This well-priced and delicious white blend is from the Côtes de Thongue appellation in southern France. The bright, well-defined flavours hold true right through the palate, and they’re in excellent balance with the clean, fresh acidity. It’s a natural for many seafood, fish, poultry and pork dishes. 12-per-cent alcohol; $12.10 (348904)
Pasqua Passimento Rosso 2011
This is a richly flavoured red from the Veneto region of northern Italy, and it goes very well with hearty Italian dishes, such as osso buco, and red meats from braised beef to lamb chops. The fruit is dense and layered, the acidity is fresh and balanced, and the tannins are drying and moderate. 14-per-cent alcohol; $15.45 (141952)
Email Rod Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join him online Thursdays, 2 to 3 p.m. at ottawacitizen.com/winechat, and follow him on Twitter at @rodphillipswine