Thursday, March 1, 2012

New and Old World musings

Standing in the Stadium Thriftway (the cute, overpriced market close to our apartment), I said out loud in the wine section that I “wasn’t feeling New-World-y lately.” Ben was holding a bottle of Washington wine and though he laughed, I’m sure the people looking at round bamboo cutting boards thought I was gross… It has been true lately. If the bombardment of French wine blogging is any evidence, I haven’t been drinking anything from this coast.  

Luckily, the restaurants I (too) frequently visit, don’t offer very many affordable French options and I was recently forced in to some New World wine. I had a 2009 Ghost Pines Cabernet Sauvignon (~$15-$20 retail) and was very pleasantly surprised by this Sonoma County-sourced wine. The wine was big and smooth. Whenever I drink New World Cabernets (always in Riedels), I think of lush fruit. The deep, full glasses evoke rich, dark jams and make me picture fat grapes hanging off the vine (maybe even that grape scene from the original Fantasia). If you’ve ever been to a vineyard, you know that fat, ripe fruit is not quite the take-away image. I’ve actually never seen a delicious looking bunch of grapes at a vineyard, for good reason.

Regardless, this Cabernet evoked the same sentiments. It was vivid and lush without being jammy, and surprisingly smooth. Even though the bottle had just been opened, I found little sharpness or acidity at the end of the sip and found the tannins to be quite smooth. If you’re more partial to fruitier cabernets like Bonterra and Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, I would highly recommend the Ghost Pines. It evokes blackberries and plums, and finishes very smoothly. For those looking for lots of complexity and finishing notes in their cabernets, this might be a bit simple for you. 

In the same week, I also tried a new French wine, and the comparison between the new and old worlds is one I think worth sharing. The wine I tried was a 2009 Mas de Guiot Grenache-Syrah ($12.99) from the Costieres de Nimes estate in Southwest France. The winemakers, Francois and Sylvia Cornut, are renowned for their orchards as well as their wine. The label suggested that the rocky soils of this region made the wine reminiscent of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape (my dream appellation). The Mas de Guiot was 40% Grenache and 60% Syrah. Though I’m not usually a Syrah drinker, I can completely get behind the blends that use it as their backbone. Somehow the Grenache blends and matures the Syrah so that it is less powerful, spicy, and tannic. In the blends, the earthiness and complexity remains without so much of the espresso and black pepper intruding on the sip. The Mas de Guiot, while no Cotes du Rhone, was very drinkable. I found myself missing the body of the Ghost Pines and the weight of the Cotes du Rhone, but pleased none-the-less. Considerably less heavy than either of the two I just mentioned, this wine would be a perfect accompaniment to a meal (casual grilled meals like fajitas or burgers). 

The difference between old world and new world is reflected in wine much like it is in our views and cultures. The old world wines are very unassuming. The Mas de Guoit’s label was merely black script on white, the Ghost Pines is a beautiful image of leafless trees against a misty backdrop. The Mas de Guiot asked to be drunk with grilled meat, the Ghost Pines with a Filet Mignon. I found myself able to drink the French wine over casual conversation, but found myself digesting and consciously drinking the Cabernet. Everything seemed bigger and more pronounced in the New World wine.

I think that our wine drinking habits, inclinations, and tastes are interesting to look at, across regions and countries. Perhaps it says something that our wines are always trying – to score points, to please great numbers (gag, Barefoot), to make an impact. And perhaps that’s why we should buy sleepy French wines whose labels say little but “I am French.”


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