Wine Class #2: Old World v. New World

The second wine class focused on the difference between Old World and New World wines. I won’t replicate the handout exactly here, but the highlights are:

Old World = Europe ; New World = everywhere else. In the 1860s, the phylloxera louse (introduced from North America) wiped out most of the vineyards in Europe, except for sandy places in Portugal and Spain; one result is that wine growers moved outward, including some from Bordeaux in France to the Rioja region of Spain, others to Chile (whose terrain is inhospitable to the louse) and other locales, bringing their expertise with them. In the New World, wine was grown at first mainly because the Catholic church needed it for Eucharist.

Wine varies by country in part because food varies by country, and wine and food are meant to complement each other. In Europe, wine is seen as a food product. In Maine and in much of the U.S., wine is seen as a controlled sin whose consumption must be watched and regulated closely. The concept of ‘organic’ or ‘all-natural’ foods and drinks doesn’t really fly in Europe; most Europeans assume and expect that what they eat is all-natural.

Wine also varies by country and region primarily because of climate and terrain, and also because of different historical traditions and/or innovations and different ways and scales of farming. For example, in the U.S. and Australia, there is more land available than in tightly packed Europe, and that’s more favourable to large scale corporate farming techniques.

We also learned that aging in oak barrels (French: vieilli en fut de chene) can cover a multitude of sins in wine, and that from 5-10% of wines are ‘corked,’ which means that a bad cork has made them undrinkable. If a wine smells like moldy cardboard or the underside of a flower pot (I’m not sure I know what either of those smells like), send or take it back, because an impurity in the cork has tainted it. Wine with synthetic corks and screw caps can also be bad, but it won’t be corked.

Wine is fined (filtered), to remove sediment and extraneous bits, in several ways, including with a cardboard filter or with clarifying agents like rennet (i.e., mammal stomach), egg white, clay, or other proteins

On to the wines!


D’Orsaria Pinot Grigio 2006 from Northern Italy. 12.5% alcohol. $15 or so.

Meant to be drunk young.

Visual: crystal clear, light hayish in colour, pretty fluid

Aroma: moderately intense, smells of young green fruit (apple, pear), mild pepper, hay.

Taste: Dry. Spicy, has zing, a little sharp (poly-alcohols), more acidic than flat, weakish structure, nearly balanced — acidity is bit out of whack, fairly persistent taste for a light white wine.

Notes from another recent tasting: “More floral aromas than fruit. It’s not too acidic (huh?) — so, it drinks well without food. Clean finish. Flavors of dry fruit, tropical fruit, and subtle, subtle grapefruit.”

I didn’t think much of it. It was too ‘hot’ in terms of alcohol. Not quite bitter, but too sharp tasting for me.

Lange Pinot Gris (2006)
Lange Pinot Gris (2006)

Lange Pinot Gris 2006 from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Organically farmed. 13% alcohol. $20 or so. (Sold out at the winery)

Visual: Crystal clear, rosy golden colour, fluid to thick.

Aroma: Not very strong smelling. Smells of butter or cream, grapefruit, green apple, vanilla, honey.

Taste: Fairly dry, perhaps a little sweet; warm to alcoholic in alcohols; rougher than the first wine with sharper poly-alcohols; vigourous structure, not fruit-driven; nearly balanced — alcohols a bit out of whack (but not as much as acids were out of whack in the first wine); intense taste.

Lange’s tasting note (pdf): “Ripe melon, tropical fruit and citrus blossom … The mid-palate shows pineapple, ripe pear and spicy vanilla. … Round rich mid-palate and crisp finish.”

I liked the citrus of this wine but it wasn’t light enough (see: ‘spicy vanilla’) for a hot day — on any but a hot day, I’d choose a red wine.

La Ferme Saint Pierre Cotes du Ventoux 2005 from the southern Rhone Valley in France. 75% syrah, 25% grenache grapes. 13.5% alcohol. (Link is to the 2006 vintage.) Drink until 2009 or so.

The first bottle poured of this wine, with a synthetic cork, was bad. To me, it smelled very off, like a root vegetable kept in the basement for several months, and there wasn’t a hint of fruit. We had a re-pour, but to some of us, it still smelled bad and tasted (not quite so) bad. And some folks liked the first glass they got!

Visual: dark purple, clear to veiled, pretty viscous

Aroma: black currant, cooked or dried cherries, pepper, cigars. One of us smelled clams, and I could ‘see’ what she meant. There was a salty, earthy (clay-like?) smell there. I could also detect the cooked cherries, I think, but there was definitely something unpleasant mixed in …

Taste: Dry, medium-warm, enough acidity to keep it from tasting dried out (not my experience: made my lips pucker), earthy/minerally component.

McManis Syrah (2005)
McManis Syrah (2005)

McManis Syrah 2005 (some students got a 2004 — more on that later). From the central coast of California.  14.5% alcohol. McManis is a ‘pretty good, affordable wine.’ $10.

Visual: veiled to clear; thin to fluid.

Aroma: Lovely, full smell, I thought. Berries, vanilla, peppers, slight smokeyness

Taste: Dry, but sweeter than the previous one, more alcohol and less acidity than the previous wine, tannic, good structure.

I liked this wine (the 2005 vintage), especially the bouquet. The 2004, though, which is what the teacher was quaffing, smelled to at least three of us like cat urine. Maybe we still had the clam smell stuck in our olfactory epithelium.

Next week: Fermentation Techniques. And four more wines.


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