There is no denying the fact that the first wine that you taste sets an equally important milestone on your memory as your first love. Some remember it for the obnoxious sensation on the palate, while some are purely mesmerised by the alien taste they never encountered before. And whatever you pick off the shelves thereafter is bound to be compared against the parameters of the one you lost your vinous virginity to. No matter how hard you try unloading the image of that wine-label from your memory, it sticks and stays like the chewing-gum on your shoe-sole. The wines drunk before carve a special place in your head and heart and are not only better remembered, but respected too.
WHERE IT ALL STARTED
Grape growing began in Mesopotamia, in the then Persia, and the nifty Egyptian traders brought it to the Romans, who then spread it in other part of the world as wines. Romans became the guardians of the art of storing and preserving them, and eventually the French viticultural and vinification laws (called appellation locally), in the 1930s, brought a new perspective to the world’s winemaking regime. Till the late 1960s, New World countries were absent from the fine-winemaking scenes and what was on offer were the crafty European wines. However, the fairly recent introduction of these well-crafted wines from Australia, New Zealand, California, South America, South Africa, and (even) India has brewed an unending battle. They are eager to institute their own space and repute without challenging the splendor, charm, and the mysticism of the Old World wines. Yet, it’s the constant comparisons between the two that splits connoisseurs in to gangs of patriots towards a wine-style, country, and a recipe.
Like Rome, the wine-styles of the Old World weren’t fixed overnight. Numerous hit-and-trials established the best locations for their varietals, both indigenous and travelled, and only after numerous failures were the best recipes zeroed upon, be it varietal or marriage between their blending partners. It took centuries to develop what we call regional identities today. Numerous wars, changing hands of the rulers and kings, diplomacies and clashing egos, shifting borders, and exchange of immigrating cultures also contributed to what we taste in their regional wines today.
There’re no doubts about certain wine-styles from the Old World can’t be re-invented by the New Worlds. As colonization began, it introduced the phase of the European and British rulers unknowingly globalizing the winemaking traits. Wherever they went, they only wanted to submerge in vinous decadence of what their palates were baptized with from ages of drinking. Storage and logistics weren’t as convenient as they are today. This embarked the era of travelling with their favorite grapes, thus blessing the colonies with the array of varietals their plush vineyards flourish with today. The rulers graciously recited the recipes of their beloved wine styles and the enthusiastic colonized denizens wasted no time in picking up these tricks quickly.
Passing the recipes from one generation to another, shifting continents, countries and regions, saw the reincarnation of the classics, this time with local (and personal) twists and slangs. From Bordeaux blends, Chianti, Chablis, Champagnes, Sauternes, Ports, all have a local avatar in the New World market. Although some call them imitations, brave competitors, new age alter egos, some discard them completely without a fair chance. While the common some were reinvented, some styles are still untouched.
Needless to say, with newly mushrooming wine-regions in the colonized world came new styles, defining untouched palates and converting even those who took pride in the old world treasures. New World thrived in defining their varietals by using technology and production techniques that were never employed in the wineries. Some even went on to invent their own varietals and clones to suit their terroir, climates, and gastronomy, exhibit Pinotage, Delaware, and the likes. Times were changing and so were the palates.
The Comparison And The Rise of New World
With comparison come competition, and the brave-hearted New World wines are not shy of battling at the taste-test. It was a battle between generations or knowledge, discoveries, and experience, versus the enthusiastic clean, technology oriented, and practical winemaking.
The iconic 1976 Judgment of Paris was the key amongst these battles. Steven Spurrier, brought to world the hidden jewels of Californian Chardonnays and Cabernets and put them to test against the mighty Burgundy Montrachets and Meursaults, and Bordeaux reds. The 30th anniversary tasting (in 2006) of the same vintages delivering identical results thus establishing that the Californian wines are not only for relishing in their youth but also can mature better. This was the birth of the revolution; everyone wanted to revolt and rated against the bests. Aussie Margret River reds defeated the supreme Bordeaux blends too, and were knighted as the Bordeaux of the Southern Hemisphere. South African cape Blends are not too far from setting another comparison. Champagnes are now receiving competition from the English sparkling wines, London Olympics changed the way world looked at them. Wimbeldon too moved from Champagne to Jacobs Creek Sparkling too. Rhone Valley wines constantly go head-to-head with the Californian ‘Rhone Rangers’, a breed of Rhone Valley style producers here, so do the Pouilly Fume against their Fume Blanc and New Zealander Sauvignon Blancs. Ports and Sherries are now challenged by the Aussie Topaque and Aperas, and list seems endless.
The Two Sides
However, styles like Loire Valley’s Cabernet Franc based Chinon and Chenin Blanc favouring Vouvray, Rhone Valley’s Viognier-varietal appellation Condrieu, Jura’s oxidative Vin Juane seem to be unique and can’t be duplicated. Be it the lack of demand, or low financial returns, these wines are still holding their identity in isolation from imitations or unimpressive alternatives. Italy’s Nebbiolo-centered Barolos and Barbarescos, and mutli-varietal blends like Valpolicella and Chianti have no direct New World alternatives too. May be it is the scent of the land in these wines that is missed in their New World avatars or the ability to move you century in to the history with a single sip. So goes for the Spaniard Rioja reds, Provencal Rose, and the luscious Hungarian Tokaji, and Sauternes. However, so possesses the New World a list of styles that are centered on their identity. Be it the South African Pinotage, Chilean Carmenere, Argentine Malbecs, Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignons, Californian Zinfandels, Gimlet Gravels Chardonnay and Central Otago Pinot Noir of New Zealand, or Cannadian Icewines.
Wines carry stories and a better actor with a strong script wins. Traditional wines having scene centuries of existence, carrying millennial experience, are a result of nurturing received through good bad and better vintages. They have seen generations come and go, and the beating of harsh practices to the modern-day comfort. Packing such lengthy history, these wines have a dramatic story to tell encompassing varied emotions and twists. They are bound have a better stories to tell, not a monolog but an epic drama. They have travelled so far in their winemaking understanding that faint nuances also can create a sales point for a wine. However, the story of the New World is interesting and witty too. The drama of being ruled, influx of cultures molding the identity of a colony, the battle for freedom, and the rise of the suppressed, ascent of modernization and the refreshing new launch of the old-age varietals is exciting and buyable too. The one that captures you better wins!!
While the Old World sells the story of the land and the winemaker, New World brings out the caliber of the varietal and winemaker minimalistic intervention. Whichever side of the fence you may select, the wines must be respected for what they are than where do they come from.
My advice, take the high road. Regions, wine styles, and varietals will fight for their brand value. I like what the Super Tuscans do. It is not about the region or the varietals, but for the truth that lies within the liquid in the bottle.