The new New World
In wine terms you might think the New World – that’s to say the southern hemisphere, Asia and North America – has turned over a new leaf in recent years because it’s wines are very different from how they were twenty years ago when some of them were first breaking onto the scene. But it’s less to do with turning over a new leaf and more to do with maturity.
As the vines age they produce more complex grapes and therefore wine, and as each winemaker notches up another vintage experience their understanding of terroir (that almost-mythical combination of climate, location and other factors that make each vine’s performance unique) improves, so this combination of maturity has given the New World countries more scope to produce both better wines and new styles.
Let’s begin with one fo the most popular, New Zealand. For a long time pigeon-hold as a Mecca for Sauvignon Blanc and not much else, these days it’s making a huge success of many other varieties. Pinot Gris is one contender. Luscious in ripe apricot fruit, sometime dry, sometimes off-dry, and a winner with Asian food regardless, it’s a seriously hot ticket right now. Chardonnay isn’t a new style by any means, but if you head to any winemaking region in NZ (perhaps with the exception of Central Otago in the south) Chardonnay is the grape on winemakers’ lips as the most exciting/with the most potential for the future. And it’s true, New Zealand does make some of the most underrated Chardonnay in the world.
Australia meanwhile, is a hotbed of grape experimentation right now. While its beloved Shiraz and Chardonnay is, in general, much more elegant and less fruitbomb and oakbomb than it used to be (in line with the world’s palates which generally prefer more elegance these days), ‘other’ varieties are starting to hit the headlines. Chiefly among them are Italian grapes, so don’t be surprised to find Barolo’s grape Nebbiolo from Oz or Sicilian grape Nero d’Avola, which is performing incredibly well in Australia’s warmer spots, while the famous grape in Chianti, Sangiovese, is winning over hearts and minds across the country with its sappy red cherry fruit. For white wines, we’re seeing Spanish favourite Albariño, Austria’s flagship white Grüner Veltliner as well as Tuscany’s zesty Vermentino also hitting its stride Down Under. Try any of them/all of them if you can.
Canada meanwhile seems to be (unfairly) synonymous with icewine, but this is a country that can make hauntingly elegant dry wines too, and from grapes that are very familiar to wine drinkers. Here you can find toasty fizz, classy Chardonnay (the best of which could give some White Burgundy a run for its money) and refined Pinot Noir too, as well as some über-crisp Riesling.
In Asia, Japan has really upped its game with its most successful of native white grapes, Koshu. Made as a delicate dry table wine or slightly fuller, richer version (with some oak, for example), this is a white wine purist’s dream, such are the pretty floral and fruity qualities of this grape. It’s a perfect accompaniment to the delicate umami you find in Japanese food, especially sushi, sashimi and tempura, but it’s fruity enough for an aperitif too.
Yes, wine styles have matured across the globe, and we wine drinkers are benefitting from this brave new New World of wines. Our most difficult job now is keeping up with all these delicious developments!