01/13/09 – Bordeaux varietals made in Australia

By Jesse on January 11, 2009

My foodie friend Lance really loves his pizza. No grubdog I know holds his crusts in higher regard, or has such a craving for the sauce and the motz. Having spent his years in Detroit and then Los Angeles, however, he’d never tasted the good stuff — NYC original — until he took a trip there this past summer (you can read his write-up of New York’s best pies here).

As anyone who’s had both will tell you, New York pizza, despite its greatness, doesn’t taste a whole lot like its Italian counterpart. The ingredients are made differently, the methods of production are different, and as a result, the taste is different — even if it’s still just dough, tomato sauce, and cheese.

Wine works basically the same way. Occasionally you get a “new world” grape that doesn’t have a history in Europe (Zindandel, Torrontes, etc.), but most of the varietal wines that are being made in the new world are still the classic grapes of Italy, Spain, and Germany — and, of course, France. Because they’re being grown in different parts of the world, though, employing different production methods and with different soils and climates, they tend to taste pretty different.

This week we’re trying out an interesting little cross-cultural category: we’ll be tasting Australian wines made from grapes hailing from France’s Bordeaux region. These days, international consumers turn to Australia for first-rate Rhone-style wines (Shiraz, etc.), but the nascent winemaking country depended heavily on Bordeaux varietals before the Shiraz took off on the international scene.

The four most recognizable Bordeaux varietals are Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon on the white side and Merlot and Cebernet Sauvignon on the red. All four grapes do well in Australia and produce interesting and memorable wines there. Sauvignon Blanc tastes and smells similar to that racy New Zealand style, but often with more green pepper character, as we’ve discovered lately. Sémillon, one of my favorite whites, does well in Hunter Valley, but they don’t taste like much of anything when they’re young, so try to find one with a couple of years on it. (These two grapes are often blended into interesting bottles as well.)

The Merlot and Cab are also renowned, and are grown all over the continent, but this article from Decanter claims they’re best made in Coonawara and Margaret River. These two grapes are also blended frequently. Feel free to bring a single-varietal Bordeaux-style wine or a blend of more than one. And if you can find Australian bottlings of any of the less well-known Bordeaux grapes, like Muscadelle, Malbec, or Cabernet Franc, you’ll be a Wino hero. (As always, you can opt to bring a crisp $10 bill in lieu of a bottle.)

We’ll be meeting at Jessica’s classy new apartment in West H’wood. The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you click on this link and tell me so (don’t forget your full name, e-mail address, and a cute message conveying to me your intentions). Priority is given to long-term members but seats are also reserved at each and every meeting for new people. If you’re denied entry due to a meeting exceeding capacity, don’t worry — you’ll be at the top of the list the next week.

Once you’ve received your confirmation e-mail with some directions, go find yourself a bottle of Bordeaux from down under — or scrounge up ten American dollars — and put your drinking cap on. We’ll see you on Wednesday at 9:00.