Tuesday, September 12, 2006

12 September 2006 - Southern Hemisphere

Here are some random thoughts about the current state of wine in the Southern Hemishpere:

South Africa is best known for Pinotage, that weird hybrid created in 1921, from crossing Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Recent trends are Shiraz (if you can’t beat Aussies, might as well join ‘em), and new regions like Tulbagh (see wine #8). My big question (which no one in South Africa has been able to explain, though some have agreed it exists) for South Africa is, what's up with that nasty, rusty/earthy/metallic funk that mars so many of its red wines? I used to find a slightly different funk regularly in wine from Chile -- no explanation there, either. If you ask me, I think it has to do with old equipment in old spaces, but I won't be the shop on that one. Meanwhile, check out Moreson's "Cuvee Cape" bubbly made from 79% Pinotage (the balance is Chenin Blanc) -- what a great thing to do with Pinotage!

Australia is the land of innovation, for better (no other country tries such adventurous, intriguing blends) and for worse (Oz is the hotbed of reverse-osmosis and other ways of de-alcoholizing over-ripe, otherwise useless grapes). Still, their Shiraz is so successful every other
country that grows Syrah is using “shiraz” on their labels. In other words, Australia has two distinct wine faces -- incredibly successful in the bulk wine business, yet still with incredibly creative individual wine growers who can come up with things like Cabernet Sauvignon made from partly air-dried berries (ala Amarone, at Mitolo Vineyards, McLaren Vale).

New Zealand is too new to put in any kind of perspective, but you gotta give them credit for making Sauvignon Blanc much more popular than it ever was. The big question here is, what's next? Where do they go after Sauvignon Blanc? Pinot Noir? In some spots, perhaps. Riesling and Gewurztraminer? First, the demand isn't there, second, several other regions in the world are way, way ahead. No worries (I know, that's an Aussie cliche, but it's appropriate here), New Zealand is a vinous infant -- give it time.

Chile might be breaking out of it safe position as producer of cheap, ordinary-but-inoffensive Bordeaux varietals — finally! Quite by accident, they discovered that much of the wine they’d always thought was Merlot turned out to be Carmenere — a much more obscure, but worthwhile
Bordeaux varietal that doesn’t exist in the homeland (France) anymore.

Argentina’s signature grape is Malbec — another Bordeaux transplant that is doing better in its new home than it did in Bordeaux. However, it seems to have a quality ceiling -- most of the Malbec I've tasted that costs over $30/bottle comes up short. I thought Torrontes might have a shot as South America's most interesting white wine grape, but recently they all seem to be too alcoholic -- 14+% seems too much for a grape whose most charming quality is fresh, lively fruit. The greatest promise for great red wine in South America could be in Argentine Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon blends -- wines like mapema's red blend, Catena Zapata.

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