The Road Less Travelled at Wineseeker last week was an exploration of lesser known varietals. It was also an opportunity to taste an Old and New World expression of those varietals side by side.
Old World wines are primarily those made in Europe and the Mediterranean. They’re steeped in tradition. After hundreds of years the Old World know what they do well, so much so that they’ve regulated exactly what can be grown where.
Everything else makes up the New World: America, South Africa, South America and us, here in New Zealand. In the New World the name of the game is experimentation and exploration.
What’s interesting is that the New World is starting to mature, as producers get to know the land they’re working with, they develop their own traditions. Like Marlborough and it’s Sauvignon Blanc. While the Old World, has learned a thing or two from the youthful and vibrant New World.
As this was an organised tasting with nibbles to accompany, the Old World wines were really well showcased. Due to the extreme differences in style between the Old and New World wines, I imagine if we were enjoying these wines with good friends and conversation as the focus, rather than food, New World would have come out on top.
Arneis is a white Italian grape from the Piedmont region. In Piedmontese Arneis means little rascal as it’s difficult to grow, produces low yields and is susceptible to mildew and pests. More commonly Arneis is used as a blending grape to soften the Nebbiolo grapes in the Barolo region and to help give more aromatics. Arneis is characterised by delicate white flowers, pears, almonds and apricot with a crisp acidity on the palate.
Prunotto Roero Arneis 2011, Piedmont, Italy 12% $38.90 **
Light, delicate, soft, faint. My notes reflect a crisp acidity paired with an elegant complexity and gentle notes of white flowers and white pear flesh.
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Arneis 2011, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand 13% $29.90
This was Villa Maria’s second Arneis vintage, the deeper, darker golden colour set this apart from it’s old world cousin from the start. This wine was far more almond nuttiness, spice and texture. Get a touch of tropical notes, but not as much as the first time I had this wine several months ago.
Chenin Blanc is a white French grape from the Loire Valley. Interestingly, not all grapes in a bunch will ripen at the same time. At Milton the grapes were handpicked, with the team having to cycle through the vineyard four times to produce their Chenin Blanc. Typically a sweeter white with a naturally high acidity, this talented grape can produce a dry, sweet or sparkling wine depending on the climate. In France, Chenin Blanc adopts the name of the region where it’s grown, Vouvray, as is typical with Old World wines.
Champalou Vouvray 2010, Loire Valley, France 12.5% $32.90
Very light and aromatic, the Vouvray had a touch of earthiness about it. In the mouth there was a tart acidiy, (a la granny smith apples), but this was softened with notes of almond and quince jelly. A invitingly complex wine.
Milton Te Arai Chenin Blanc 2012, Gisborne, New Zealand 12.5% $34.90 **
A really rich wine on the nose with sharp, spicy notes and dark mushroom influenced characters there was also a lot of fruit in the royal gala apples and ripe peach spectrum coming through. A really well crafted wine. There was an oily texture in the mouth, when this wine was enjoyed with brie the texture morphed into pure silk. Really nice.
An Italian red grape, Montepulciano is typified by bright, deep colours and moderate acidity that produces round and plummy wines. In Abruzzo where the grapes are grown in Italy, the local regulations stipulate that the wine must be at least 85% Montepulciano but can also be mixed with Sangiovese.
Fattoria La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008 Abruzzo, Italy 13.5% $33.50 **
A spicy little number that was very drying with a nice acidity and balance. It was rather generous on the nose with cherry and liquorice coming through in spades. This was a real winner with the pecorino cheese on offer.
Weeping Sands Montepulciano 2011 Waiheke Island, New Zealand 13.5% $43.50
Fairly limited fruit characters in this big, big wine, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t heaps going on elsewhere. Smoky tobacco and leather danced around with dark red fruits, vanilla and a real herb-y quality.
Tempranillo is best known for creating full-bodied Spanish reds, it’s name is comes from temprano, or early, as the grape tends to ripen weeks earlier than most of Spanish red varieties. Tempranillo is commonly blended as it’s low in acidity and sugar. Both the examples tasted were blends. The Rioja is a crianza, meaning it’s been aged for at least two years, one of those years in oak.
Rioja Vega Crianza 2009 La Rioja, Spain 13.5% $32.30
The Rijoa is a blend with 80% Tempranillo, 15% Grenache for body and alcohol and 5% Mazuelo for aroma and herbal notes like Eucalyptus. This wine is moving towards darker fruit with black plums and boysenberry most apparent. A fairly big wine.
Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Tempranillo 2009 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand 13.7% $39.90 **
A super blend (not sure that’s a term, but there you go) of 86% Tempranillo, 9% Touriga Nacional (one of the six grapes most common Port grapes***), 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Viognier. Because of all the grapes in play with this wine the character is subject to change from acetate notes and old mossy wood to the sweetness of vanilla and chocolate. Taken as a whole it’s a well rounded and pleasant wine.
A few facts on Muscat: it’s famous for being a grape that produces a grapey quality in wine; it can produce a still, dessert or fortified wines as well as brandies and liqueurs; they’re primarily grown in Italy, France, Australia, Portugal, Spain, Chile and California. But really, they’re everywhere. The two examples looked at were very different, the French Muscat was more of dessert wine, while the Australian was in the fortified spectrum.
Domaine de la Pigeade Muscat de Beaume de Venise 2011 Rhone, France 15% $25.00 **
A captivating blend of honey, mint, eucalyptus and general herbs. The fermentation process was stopped early to retain some of the natural sugars, giving this wine a real moreish sweetness that was well balanced by the acidity. Went beautifully with the mince tarts, strawberries and blue cheese on offer.
Buller Fine Old Muscat NV Victoria, Australia 18% $39.90
This non-vintage Muscat has 14 years age behind it. A much darker and richer wine, the Australian Muscat was much like a Christmas cake with extra stewed plums.
Notes on my notes
*Prices listed are Wineseeker prices. Prices may vary at different retailers.
**Marks my preferred pick in the competition between the old and new. Feel free to happily ignore.
***Six most common grapes used in Port include: Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão and Tinta Amarel