The other evening we were sitting on the patio having a little impromptu Happy Hour when a friend asked me why I prefer new world wines to their European counterparts. After all, Europe is were it all started (well, Greece…) and the new world — the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa — are johnny-come-latelys by comparison. The French, the Italians and the Spaniards have been making wine for centuries. They must have it pretty well figured out by now, she said. And, of course, they do.
“Try this,” I said, getting up and using the little knife on the side of the corkscrew to cut off a small bunch of grapes hanging on the arbor above us. They were pretty well ripe, but I figured had another week before they got fully sweet. The problem, I’ve found in my backyard, is if I wait for the fruit to get completely tree-ripe, the birds attack it and I’m left with half-eaten apricots and figs, and the grapes are nibbled then fall off the vine onto the patio … but I digress.
She ate a couple of grapes and winced slightly. “Good, but not quite ripe.”
“Exactly. The summers in France just don’t get as hot as in, say, Australia or the California Central Coast. The grapes don’t develop to the same degree of ripeness, so you don’t have that bursting-with-fruit flavor to start with.”
“But French wines are pretty much the standard,” she said reaching for the zinfandel.
“French wines are meant to go with food. If you’re eating something with a rich sauce, you want that slightly sharp, acidic wine to clear your palate between bites.” She reached over and splashed another couple of ounces of Opolo Mountain Zin into my glass. I swirled and inhaled the heady aroma of deep red fruit — raspberry, cherry, plum. Sometimes I think I’d be content just smelling the wine. However, I did sip and as I savored I was delightfully whelmed (not overwhelmed, just whelmed) once again by its richness and intense flavor. “Umm… this is a big wine full of flavor. Stands by itself — it doesn’t need food.”
“It would go well with steak, though,” she said glancing meaningfully at the barbecue.
“Yeah, all out of steak. Have some bleu cheese.”
The point, and the difference for me, is in the style. I like hearty, fruit-forward wines. I like the raspberry, licorice, black pepper of Zinfandel and the blueberry, coffee, chocolate aromas and finish of a really good Syrah. These just don’t jump out from, say, French wines, even though the northern Rhone region of France is Syrah country. And I love the white Rhone varietals — Marsanne, Rousanne and Viognier, but that’s a whole other story.
“So, you’re saying New World wines are superior to French wines?”
“No, I’m saying there is a big difference and it depends on what you like. My first real grown-up wine experience was wine-tasting in Amador County and I fell in love with the big, ripe zinfandels. For me that’s the standard — it’s like your first love. You compare everything else to that first experience.”
“So, you’re saying wine is like love?”
“No, I’m saying that wine is like wine and I think it’s time we got something to eat!”
Shameless Plug: check out my book “Beyond the Spotlight: On the Road with Phyllis Diller” available on http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Spotlight-Road-Phyllis-Diller/dp/0985972882