With a new year under way, it's time for a resolution in your wine consumption: Branch out, be more adventurous and explore some New World wines from beyond American shores.
Historically in the wine business, we have referred to New World vs. Old World wines, Old World including countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal, among others. New World was used to refer to wines from North America; however, that definition has been expanded to include Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In the near future, we will also start to see many wines from Brazil and Uruguay.
As you start your voyage of vinous exploration, it may be best to concentrate on the signature grape varieties of each country, at least as a starting point.
Let's begin with Argentina, a big country with a rapidly developing wine scene.
For white wines, Torrontes is their distinctive grape. It produces aromatic, elegant white wines with medium body and bright acidity, which pair well with seafood and light chicken dishes. Look for the elegant 2009 Gouguenheim Torrontes ($12).
For reds in Argentina, look no further than Malbec. This grape, originally from France, finds its most profound expression in the high-altitude vineyards around Mendoza. The combination of bright sunshine, cool nights and a thin ozone layer allow Malbec to ripen fully and produce profound, full-bodied red wines that pair perfectly with the grilled beef from the Pampas. From the lush, fruit-driven Malbec produced by Susanna Balbo under her Crios label ($15) to the brilliant, world-class, single-vineyard wines produced by Laura Catena, there is amazing diversity. Try the 2004 Catena Zapata Nicasia Vineyard Malbec ($110), a wine worthy of the lofty price tag.
Chile is a country with a large wine industry that has struggled to find its identity. Chilean winemakers initially entered the U.S. market with very inexpensive jug wines that were simply ordinary. In recent years, the better producers have improved their vineyards and winemaking skills and now produce many excellent wines.
Sauvignon blanc has jumped to the top of the pack for whites, producing crisp, citrus-driven wines with bright acidity. These pair beautifully with the wealth of seafood found along Chile's coastline. The 2010 Rayun Sauvignon Blanc ($10) is perfect with shrimp or scallops and is a superb bargain as well.
For red wines, consider one produced from the Carmenere grape. In centuries past, this grape was used as a blending grape in Bordeaux, but it was often difficult to ripen and fell out of favor. Once again, the climate in South America is more hospitable, and the grape thrives there. Try the 2008 Santa Rita Reserva Carmenere ($14), which shows off both the luscious black fruit and the notes of leather and tobacco that make this grape so interesting.
Australia has made a big mark in the U.S. with inexpensive wines, often with brightly colored critters on the label. The American palate has tired to some degree of these wines, which became a bit syrupy as producers pushed the ripeness level. Fortunately we are seeing a resurgence of high-quality, small producers turning out well-balanced wines at sensible prices. The alcohol level is lower, and these wines work well with food. Check out the 2007 Next of Kin Shiraz ($15) to see what I mean.
New Zealand is about as far away from the U.S. as you can get, but it is home to many gorgeous wines, particularly the whites.
It was Sauvignon blanc that put New Zealand on the world wine map, and their distinctive, herbaceous-citrus style is still popular. In the past year we have seen some producers aiming for a riper, richer style, which accents more of the passion fruit and grapefruit character. Check out the luscious 2009 Mohua Sauvignon Blanc ($15) to try this style.
I came away from my most recent trip to New Zealand with the belief that the next big hit from that beautiful country will be wines made with Pinot gris grapes. In New Zealand, they seem to find a balance somewhere between the light, simple Italian Pinot grigios and the more viscous and heavy Pinot gris wines from Alsace. The best New Zealand Pinot gris are captivating for their ripe pear flavor, balanced by notes of pineapple, passion fruit, star anise and fig. Beautiful acidity keeps the wines fresh and ensures that they are versatile with food. The 2009 Mohua Pinot Gris ($20) from Central Otago is just such a wine, not widely available but worth the search.
Story published Friday, January 7, 2011 ( Volume 5, Number 8 )