Wine Wine Everywhere

THE Dole campaign certainly drove many Republicans to drink well before the result was in. But conservatives have standards to maintain. Drowning one’s electoral sorrows should be done with a certain style, and that means with wine.

So, what’s in the cellar these days? The first wine book I ever bought was like that famous New Yorker cover, the one that has Manhattan occupying the front five-sixths of the picture, with the rest of the U.S. and the world crammed into the remainder. In the early 1960s, books on wine began with, and were dominated by, a long tour of the wines of France, and the rest of the world seemed tacked on as an afterthought.

Since then the wine world has changed out of all recognition. Now, although French wines might still predominate, they have to face severe competition from the wines of other countries, all jostling aggressively for attention and, in terms of value for money, deserving it.

Wine Wine Everywhere
Wine Wine Everywhere

Fancy a Cabernet Sauvignon, the grape that produces the classic red Bordeaux? Fine. But it doesn’t need to be from Bordeaux, since this grape has proved an intrepid traveler and settler; on every wine-making continent it has become synonymous with “reliable, full-flavored wine.”

The Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends from the U.S. and Australia won’t age as powerfully or elegantly; but even when quite young they are riper and softer than top red Bordeaux — and much cheaper. You could try a Cabernet Sauvignon from, say, the Clos du Val winery in the Napa Valley or, from South Australia, a Cabernet/Merlot blend from the Barossa Valley estate of the BRL Hardy company. But this is just the start. You can buy delicious Cabernet Sauvignons from Chile (Caliterra 1994), Argentina (Weinert 1989), New Zealand (Mara Estate 1994), South Africa (Backsberg 1993), Lebanon (where the remarkable Serge Hochar has made his much-sought-after Ch”teau Musar despite the years of shot and shell), Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Bulgaria.

And what about the other big B, Burgundy? It’s almost the same happy story for the dedicated but impecunious red-wine drinker — almost, because the dominant grape variety, the Pinot Noir, has not proved quite as successful outside its home base as Cabernet Sauvignon. But it is coming on, especially in Oregon (the Firesteed 1993 is wonderfully full-bodied and complex), California (try the Fleur de Carneros 1994), the cooler regions of Australia (Cullens 1995), and Chile (Cono Sur).

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes

With whites the situation is much the same. Of course, as with the reds, if you must have a specific wine, a Sauternes, say, or Puligny-Montrachet, you have no option but to stump up. But if not, the rest of the world offers often sensational wines from the same grapes.
Chardonnay, which makes those wonderful buttery white Burgundies, will grow and make acceptable wines just about everywhere wine is made. Closest to the classic Burgundy style are Chardonnays from California (Villa Mount Eden 1994), Washington State (Ch”teau Ste Michelle 1994), Oregon (Willamette Valley 1993), and New York State (Palmer). If you want the more steely style of wines from the Chablis region, then your best bet is something from the Alto Adige in Italy (Cornell 1994), or New Zealand (Montana Marlborough 1995). If you like your Chardonnay rich, ripe, and spicy, tasting of peaches, pineapple, butterscotch, and apricots — to mention only a few of the flavors the experts claim to detect — then we are mainly talking Australia (Penfolds Koonunga Hill), followed by Chile (Concha y Toro Trio 1995), South Africa (Nederburg 1995), Spain (mostly from Penedes).

The big competition for the Chardonnay is the Sauvignon Blanc, which tests the descriptive powers of tasters almost as much. As well as nettles, gooseberries, and asparagus, I have seen its extravagant flavor likened to cat’s urine. Some cat. I prefer the refreshing sharpness of Sauvignon Blanc to the generally heavier flavors of Chardonnay. Try a Grove Mill 1995 from New Zealand’s South Island and you’ll see what I mean.

My own favorite wine-making country is Spain — the result, I admit, of my lifelong Hispanophilia. Anyone who likes red wine to be fruity and complex yet light can do no better than to drink Rioja (look for CUNE, Martinez Bujando, Berberana, and Faustino Martinez), though Ribera del Duero and Penedes are coming along. And now that investment in new technology is banishing Spain’s formerly flat, who-needs-them? whites and replacing them with wines altogether fresher and fruitier, my cup truly runneth over. (Keep an eye open for Castillo de San Diego.)

But in wine drinking as in economics, we must have no truck with autarky. Now that virtually the whole world has become the winedrinker’s oyster, you can see wine, wine everywhere one the world, it would be foolish not to enjoy all it has to offer.

 

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