A fun way to better understand the world of wines is through comparative, side by side winetastings. One example would be to do side by side tastings featuring wines from the Old World & wines from the New World.
Examples of the New World include wines from California, Washington, Oregon, New Zealand, Australia, Chile & Argentina. Often these countries label their wines by the grape variety—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec for instance.
In comparison, examples of the Old World would include wines from France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, Greece and Portugal. Their top tier wines are usually named after the place where the grapes are grown—Pouilly Fuisse, Chianti Classico and Piesporter Goldtröpfchen for instance.
To better understand this concept, think about the Kula onion. There is something special about the area of Kula on Maui which results in a special onion. Neighboring Makawao or the rest of Maui for that matter, the onion is not quite as special. Well, that’s kind of how it works in the Old World with wines. Please remember they have had centuries of finding those special places which result in unique wines.
So, an interesting comparison, for instance, would be to taste a New Zealand grown Sauvignon Blanc (2013 Mohua “Marlborough”) next to a Sauvignon Blanc from France’s Loire Valley (Domaine du Salvard Cheverny).
I find the Mohua to smell of all kinds of exotic fruit nuances—melons, kiwi, ruby grapefruit and even guava/passion fruit. The fruit also carries through to the taste with a lip smacking, uplifting lemon/lime kind of crispness which really can get the digestive juices flowing.
In comparison, the Cheverny (the name of the village it is from) seems so light in color, almost water looking. The nose is quite deceptively and unexpectedly explosive, also displaying lots of fruit nuances with a much stronger mineral component (think of wet rocks). The wine has an understated and remarkable intensity/concentration to the taste without any sense of heaviness and is very long on the palate. I also love how amazingly light this wine is on the palate.
Now here is the kicker to me and how tastings like this can help tasters.
New Zealand has made quite the reputation world wide for their Sauvignon Blancs. Where there used to be only a few renditions available retail here in the Islands, now there are so many choices today. The challenge now becomes to find the good ones, especially at affordable prices. Here is one worth searching for.
On the other hand, who ever heard of Cheverny? And, how many people run to the store to buy the latest vintage? Having said that, Cheverny helps me satisfy my sense of adventure and discovering something new and good! The soils for this bottling is meager sandy and clay and the climate cool, all which translates in strong sense of place in this wine. Furthermore, the Loire Valley of France, just so you know, is where Joan of Arc did her crusades and where Leonardo Da Vinci chose to be buried. This estate was founded in 1898, through five hardworking generations of the Delaille family. So, besides sense of place, there is also history, culture and heritage involved here, which find so intriguing and interesting as this helps to make the wine what it is. AND, all of this at under $18 a bottle!
Another interesting comparative tasting would be to taste the Ernesto Catena Cabernet Sauvignon “Tahuan” side by side with the Vin de Pays d’Oc Rouge “Les Traverses de Fontanès”.
The Tahuan bottling is the wine project of Ernesto Catena, the son of iconic Argentina mogul Nicolas Catena. The vineyards lie high in the foothills of the Andes Mountains and are organically farmed. How can one not love the elegance, class, seamless texture and tastiness of this wine?
In comparison, how many readers ever heard of or even know what Vin de Pays d’Oc Rouge “Les Traverses de Fontanès” means? I would have asked something along those lines until I visited the estate to see the vineyards and tasted their wines. There is nothing fancy or “trophy” about this small, family owned domaine located down in southern France. This is the work of a young couple, farming and producing small amounts of wines how their families did before (except they now organically and biodynamically farm) to make a living to raise their 2 young children. What struck me most of our visits there was how I could smell the intoxicating sun baked rocks and wild shrub and wild herbs which surround the vineyard. And, then to smell them again in the finished wine reminds of their strong “sense of place” presence in the wine’s core. I didn’t mention that this wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (40 year old vines) on purpose, because this wine is not at all about a grape variety. It really is about a sense of place and a family who lives and is part of that sense.
There are many different levels one can create with side by side tastings. Most people try to find wine they prefer. One winner, one loser. In each of the duos above, I instead look for “good” wines, which have something to say in their own way. AND, when takes a closer look at the prices, these 4 wines do so while greatly over delivering quality for the dollar.