|Penfolds 2011 Koonunga Hill Chardonnay (L) and Wente Vineyards 2011 Morning Fog Chardonnay (R).
Some wine trends storm on to the scene seemingly out of nowhere, Gangnam Style, while others are a slow train coming. Three weeks into a new semester of an Old World Wines class at a winemaking institute in Niagara, and it’s easy for students to see how the lines have been blurred between supposed upstart regions like California and Niagara, and the venerable icons of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
The cradle of winemaking will always have culture and tradition baked right into their story. But cultural practices — how vines are planted, grapes are farmed and processed — are shared all over.
Newcomers in British Columbia, Ontario and every place else with the ambition to produce wine from European grape vines have enjoyed success by adopting and then adapting best practices from wine growers who came before them.
Producers in Adelaide Hills, Beamsville, Healdsberg, Kelowna and other cool climate regions can effectively grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir using tricks of the trade developed over centuries in Burgundy.
The New World results might not be dead ringers for the Old World wines that inspired their efforts (different climate, weather and other physical conditions also affect the flavours of a finished wine), but they often have the capacity to surprise with a sense of refinement, complexity and character.
It’s been said that instead of talking about Old World and New World regions, the world of wine could classify old-fashioned/traditional winemaking styles versus modern innovation.
An example of traditional winemaking would be seeking to produce Chardonnay or Cabernet in, say, the Napa Valley, modeled after time-honoured French traditions, working from a small vineyard, using the best methods of farming and winemaking that foster top quality results.
Modern innovation comes to play in new styles of red wine that are coming into the market with strong coffee or chocolate flavours. So-called “Coffee Pinotage” from South Africa was made famous by brands like KWV Café Culture and The Grinder have no point of comparison in Europe. Neither do the chocolate wines that are one of the biggest trends in the United States.
Sweet red wines that are doctored with chocolate extract and other additives are the butt of jokes made by wine snobs. But entrepreneurs might see a winery offering a product to the market to satisfy demand. As Valentine’s Day approaches, I suspect sales of The Chocolate Shop Red Wine ($15.95, 293167), a new listing in Ontario, to soar.
Traditional wines have their fans. Modern wines do, too. With thousands of different bottles available to us at any one time, there’s little chance that any one is going to love them all. The trick is to buy the style of wine that you actually enjoy drinking regardless of whether it is fashionable or cool.
Wines of the Week:
Penfolds 2011 Koonunga Hill Chardonnay, South Australia
BC $14.50 (321943) | AB $15 | ON $14.95 (321943)
One of the reasons that Penfolds continues to impress is that their painstaking efforts to make great wines at the top-end also leads to quality improvements with their larger volume, affordable brands. Case in point? Koonunga Hill Chardonnay is fresh and bright, with refined fruit and honey flavours. Good value.
Wente Vineyards 2011 Morning Fog Chardonnay, Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay, California
BC $17.99 (175430) | AB $17 | MB $17 | ON $16.95 (175430)
This consistently enjoyable model of California Chardonnay blends together spice, fruit and buttery flavours to great effect. Well-made and nicely balanced, its an attractive white wine with pleasing flavours, texture and a refreshing character.