Perhaps one of the oldest debates in the world of wines: which is the real style and, more importantly, which is the style taking over palates all over the world. Is it winemaking or is it the vineyard? Grape or region? Megan Fox or Liv Tyler?
Well choices are the only confusion in this world. What would we be without them? Wait, don’t answer, it’s a rhetoric question. Without choice, we would have but one ‘choice’. The only choice. True democracy at last, served up Henry Ford style who immortalised it when he said, “You can have any colour Ford T as long as it is black.”
But which style to prefer and why, I don’t know. All I know is that I was invited to this tasting recently in Bordeaux during the MW Forging Links Symposium 2010 and here are my modest findings. The wines are in sets of two, where both are from the same grape and same winemaker but different regions.
1. 2008 Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc, Henri Bourgeois Estate, New Zealand: Nice and crisp, lemony, fruity, fresh, clean, sharp, straight. Fun, if you like SB.
2. 2008 La Côte de Monts Damnés Sancerre Blanc, Henri Bourgeois Estate, France: Definitely more austere, sharp but terse too, held back like a reigned in horse. Wild but under whip and training ropes for now. The aftertaste reflects and gently suggests what the wine is capable of: leaping over mountains with enough hang-time on the palate. Enough with the stallion analogies. You got it, I know. (Seems like a hot vintage, at times it appears fruity-sweet, at times a bit cooked and baked, stewed greens almost: a healthy smell, perhaps, for the salad brigade but I don’t know what to make of it in a hedonistic tasting setting where calories are as inconsequential as a water pistol in the hands of a hunter.)
3. 2008 Kanta Riesling, Egon Müller, Adelaide Hills, Australia: Fruit which hides and peeps shyly from behind a giant mineral rock; sweetness of approachability. The finish is touch spicy, but also touches on many other nuances: dry stone fruit, some treacle (?)… OK, I got nothing more, yet. But it is there. Be assured.
4. 2008 Chateau Belá Riesling, Egon Müller, Štúrovo, Slovakia: Nice pearl-drop-ey nose with minty reflects. Would be hard to place this as a conventional Riesling and do not for even a minute should that press on my knowledge of this grape, or lack thereof.
5. 2008, Oda Pinot Noir, Veranda, Bio Bio Valley, Chile: By colour, this is Pinot from a hot climate, or on steroids, pumping moderately rippling muscles; dark but not deep. But then the nose, so, what’s the word, metrosexual. Soft and fruity, like a man crying openly while watching a flick, genuine tears, not the kind intended to impress the girl besides. Elegance is unmistakeable, but so then is the meaty red fruit. Tannins are ripe and rich, perhaps a bit un-Pinot-ey, alcohol cracks the whip midways, shaping the wine on the palate and giving it some startling richness. Overall, the wine has enough varietal character to be distinctly what it is. Teleos perfect. Oak is neatly tucked away in the cracks and corners, more as filling to reinforce rather than take away from the wine.
6. 2007 Gevrey-Chambertin, Marchand & Burch, Côte de Nuits, Burgundy, France: Burgundy is not just a place to worshipped now and then, it is a place to be worshipped every chance you get. I can’t think of any place that shows Terroirever so well and properly, like a flowchart for the uninitiated. The ultimate conversion tool since the Benedictine missionaries in Africa. Or was it Franciscan, or Dominican. Not the point really. The wine is fruity but has a sense of serious composure about it, quiet and composed, even if a bit restrained. “Terra Cotta” earthiness and minerality show up on the nose and again on the palate, sort of a reminder of just how humble the origins of this wine are; so what if it costs the same as a small sized Japanese car with similar Carbon emissions as the tiny vineyard where this wine was made. The wine is preferable to the previous over subsequent sips but at first sighting, the other is definitely the one with the blonde hair and lower cut, shorter dress.
7. 2006 Vilafonté Series M, Vilafonté Vineyards, Paarl, South Africa: Zelma Long is the lady behind this and the next wine, both being blends of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet S., CF, Petit Verdot (Merlot dominant for this wine, CS for the next). Richness of fruit leaps out at you, like a pup as you walk into the house. Definitely exquisite perfume on the nose. There is some oak too but more as secondary a support, showing a mix use of primary and 2nd use French oak (don’t gasp, I read that off the slide). The wine seems gentle in nature, soft and silky smooth. Meaty without being imposing or daunting. A slightly coffee-kissed finish, especially with some plum jelly besides. Likeable.
8. 2007 Conflict, Conner-Lee Vinayard, Bookwalter Valley, Washington State, USA: Richness of robe and oak on nose are what I was first struck by. Doesn’t sound all complementary, but don’t rush. The mouthfeel is elegant, silky seductive, the oak takes a backseat and let’s fruit take over. Fruit (like dark berries – think Indian ‘Jaamun’ – with some Eaux-de-vie notes) and then, darker notes. Think tobacco and tar, with some mouth-numbing fruit-tannins. Will this wild one behave, I suppose so. Time is on its side and stands between us and its future enjoyment. So, for now, approach with caution.
9. 2005 Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon, Casa Lapostolle, Chile: Michel Rolland flew in his two Merlot babies. Flew in, get it? Moving on swiftly…this one is deep and dark, like an inkpot. An intense maroon void. Yet it appears inviting. It doesn’t once intimidate, flexing muscle like a buff beach-boy and refraining approach. The nose greets almost pleasantly. Is this the same Michel Rolland?! The wine is super-easy to drink. Like a cola in the world of wines. It has nothing of the local Eucalyptus that is often spoken of in wine circles about Chilean wines, but it isn’t too Rolland-stamped either. Tannins are tough, grabbing, arresting, but not entirely unlikeable. There is varietal character, even if there lacks a certain local accent.
10. 2005 Château Pontet-Canet, 5eme Cru Classé, Paulliac, Bordeaux, France: There is a certain tenderness of character, that shines through, from robe to retrolfaction residue. It goes down much faster than the other; as if the mouth doesn’t realise the weightiness in the wine glass. Fruity yet complex, straight yet curvaceous, thewine has more facets than a 5-carat dazzler! Sign of a truly learned Terroir: ability to converse with the simple and the Socratic alike!
If anything, I am more confused now than when I started. Maybe it’s a sign of knowledge, or enlightenment. Or just a sign. A sign that is saying give up. Take a bow, and leave. Your palate dried up when Atlantis drowned.
But if the world cup is anything to go by, the New World gave a good chase, making the Old World realise how complacency is hammock that sucks you in when you are least aware of it. The presence of the devil is necessary to validate the existence of faith in the all-pervasive and omnipotent. But then I am dabbling in Philosophy, something I know even lesser of. Best leave things as they are for now, confusingly so.
As for you. try all styles. See what works for you, when and where. Debate, discuss and deliberate, bit most of all, drink! Old or New, this world wouldn’t be complete without either.