Tuesday, February 27, 2007

27 February 2007 - Southern Hemisphere...anything original down there?

The short answer is yes, but geez, you have to slog through a lot of crap to find it. Here's a country by country run down of current conditions.

Australia
The distinctive white wine grape of Australia is Semillon. Without Semillon we wouldn't have Chateau d’Yquem or any other Sauternes; but as a dry white wine grape, it usually takes a back seat to Sauvignon Blanc. Except in Australia. As long as it's not blended with Chardonnay. Verdelho is another candidate.
Semillon of note: Kaesler '04, Barossa Valley

Shiraz (Syrah) is the greatest commercial success story in the wine world. Too bad most of the wine made from Shiraz tastes like grape jam. Not that there aren't plenty of distinctive, delicious examples -- they're just corks floating in an ocean of overcropped, overmanipulated Shiraz.
Shiraz of note: Possums '04, McLaren Vale

New Zealand
New Zealand is too new in the wine business to insult, but I predict in the next generation, when they’ve had more time for research, that New Zealand will be better known for some varietal other than Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Noir is a possibility (given this example), but it might be something else all together different. Syrah, perhaps? After all, isn't New Zealand famous for its incredibly long, cool, sunny growing season? Sort of like the northern Rhone?

South Africa
South Africa has produced wine longer than any other country in the Southern Hemisphere. Still, its distinctive contribution to the wine world is a hybrid invented there in the 1920s - Pinotage.
Pinotage of note: Rijk's '02, Tulbaugh

Chile
I’ve been especially tough on Chile, which still deserves discredit for producing boatloads of cheap but utterly boring Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Cono Sur, by its work with Pinot Noir alone, is causing me not to change my opinion, but to reinforce it. Chile is a place capable of producing distinctive wine — its biggest wine factories just fail to do it. Currently, Chile’s best — or at least most distinctive — red wine grape (besides Cono Sur’s Pinot Noir) is Carmenere, which up until just a few years ago was mistaken for Merlot. It figures.
Pinot Noir of note: Cono Sur '06 78 Old Vine, Colchagua Valley
Carmenere of note: Terra Noble '04 Gran Reserva, Maule Valley

Argentina
While Chile mostly copied California styles for export, Argentina was busy making wine for its own people, who have always been significantly bigger wine drinkers. While Torrontes became Argentina’s distinctive white wine grape, Malbec (brought from France) became Argentina’s big red grape. After Malbec it's Bonarda in Argentina -- another import (a given for the southern hemisphere), but again, distinctively different. Not that North Americans haven't had a big influence in the growing Argentine export business, but using different grape varieties has definitely helped keep things interesting.
Torrontes of note: Crios de Susanna Balbo '06, Cafayate
Malbec of note: Melipal '04, Mendoza

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