02/24/08 – Fresh off the Boat 2: Old World red varietals in the New World

By jasonm1 on February 26, 2008


If last week was a White Flight, this week we’re gonna have a Red Scare. As exemplified in this cartoon from the early 20th century, European varietals (or anarchists, whatever) have always been a menace to traditional American institutions like capitalism, two-party democracy, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon. This week we’re going to explore a few of them.

For those who were conspicuously absent last week, we’re again looking at some of the less well-known European varietals that are starting to make inroads in the New World. Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV explored the theme in this episode from earlier this month (Mac users can click here to watch a Quicktime version). Basically, you’ll want to buy an Old World varietal that’s grown somewhere in the New World — Australia, New Zealand, South America… or, of course, the good old USA. “But Jesse, aren’t all varietals ‘old world’ varietals?” Well, that’s a good point, and most of the major ones are. We’ll start by eliminating the big four: Pinot Noir, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Please do not bring any of those. Other than that, any traditional European red grape is fair game, as long as it’s grown outside of Europe. Here are some suggestions:

Cabernet Francno longer just a blending grape from Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc is staking its claim as a stand-alone varietal in California. Expect flavors of raspberry, cherry and spice. Read this San Fran Chronicle article which is still interesting even though it’s a few years old.

Grenache — although we know it best as a major part (along with Syrah) of reds from the southern Rhone, Grenache has long been planted in California’s Central Valley and made into cheap bulk wines. Recently, a number of California producers have been taking the grape more seriously, as have several top wineries in Australia. You can read this rather dubious article which opines that Grenache is “California’s next Pinot Noir,” but I’m not sure I trust these people (anyone who notices the wine nomenclature error in the article gets major points). In California especially, the grape may be blended with Syrah and other Rhone varietals, as in the Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas, which I’ll open if people are interested. If you bring a Rhone blend, just make sure it’s majority Grenache.

Malbec — yes, I know we tasted it a few weeks ago, but it was so damn good! Malbec is the red grape that’s fast becoming Argentina’s international calling card. Here’s an interesting article from Wine Spectator about the pros and cons of Argentinian Malbec in today’s market, as well as a few bottle suggestions.

Petite Sirah — we had this even more recently than Malbec, but it was also delicious, so we can re-visit it. Petite Sirah grapes “make big, assertive red wine. Powerful tannins and dark, almost black color are characteristics that the diehard Petite Sirah fan seeks out. The flavors of pepper, nutmeg and clove spice dominate the fruit flavors of rich berry and boysenberry jam, finishing with rustic spiciness.”

Sangiovese — Chianti comes to California in delicious fashion. Good California Sangiovese should reward us with “supple texture reminiscent of a fleshy Pinot Noir, medium to high acidity and medium-full to full tannins, sometimes floral scents reminiscent of iris and wild violets and bright cherry-strawberry fruit, often including blueberry and cranberry, plus warm spice (clove, cinnamon, nutmeg).”

Tempranillo – The star of Spain’s Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions has found homes in Argentina, Chile, Australia, and, to a lesser degree, California. Here’s an interesting article to inform your purchases.

We’ll be meeting at my place in the Sh’oaks.  Observe: (my awesome address)

There are about seven articles linked in this e-mail — please read the one pertaining to your wine of choice (and/or bring some tasting notes) and come prepared to discuss.  That’s not too much to ask, I hope… I promise I’ll reward you with some delicious Manchego or Stilton or something.  (Those who don’t read the articles get Kraft singles.)

Find yourself a delicious bottle of Old World red produced in the New World order, and we’ll see you bright and sober at 9pm!