I’m taking a cue from my clients and giving a few pointers on some of the differences between Old World and New World wines this week. It’s a class that I teach a lot, and it’s a lot of fun to see people who “hate [insert wine variety]” realize they don’t in fact hate ALL of it!
To start, it’s helpful to know what we’re even talking about here. “Old World” is Europe (Turkey, Lebanon and others are also generally included in this category). “New World” is….everything else! America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa- they’re all New World.
Obviously there is quite a bit of variation in these regions, so take these generalizations with a grain of salt.
New World wines are typically more fruit forward, whereas Old World wines typically exhibit more earthy elements respective of their terroir.
New World wines are more typically aged in American oak, which imparts more flavor than French or Hungarian oak.
New World wine also tend to be a bit higher in alcohol than Old World wines.
Some find the flavors in New World wines to be a bit more accessible, whereas Old World Wines are typically described as subtle or nuanced.
It’s possible to find Old World style wines in the New World, and vice versa!
There’s no right or wrong preference- just as in art, wine is highly subjective and you should drink what you like. Just remember to branch out sometimes- you just may discover that that wine you thought you hated is more about the region than the grape!
This week Washington DC is hosting the The Green Festival. The wine industry is currently undergoing it’s own “greening” process, and clients are making more and more informed decisions when purchasing wine.
But what does “drinking green” look like? (And no, I’m not talking about kale smoothies!) It can be a complicated process and there are many ways to go about it!
Although vintners make countless choices in their efforts towards sustainability and environmental harmony, there are a few main categories that have a major impact on how green your wine choices are.
1. Organic Wines:
This one can be a bit misleading, because the meaning of organic wine varies from country to country. The certification process also varies, and can be prohibitively expensive for smaller wineries. Many wineries that grow their grapes organically are not certified for this reason. Often, the bottle will give you an indication of whether the vineyard employs organic practices.
Often, “Old World” (European) wines use fewer and less harsh pesticides than their “New World” counterparts. This is largely due to their environmental laws prohibiting the use of certain harmful chemicals, as well as the wine making tradition of generations working with the land before the advent of chemicals and machinery.
2. Sustainable Wines
Sustainable wine practices include the planting of beneficial plants and wildflowers, use of bio-diesel fuel, water conservation practices, cork recycling programs, or the elimination of machinery. Hand-picking grapes and plowing by horse are just a few sustainable practices winemakers employ to reduce their environmental footprint. Economic viability and impact on the community- such as fair trade practices- are also often taken into account with sustainable wine making. These practices are often used in conjunction with organic or biodynamic practices.
2. Biodynamic Wines
Biodynamic wine making is similar to organic farming practices in that both take place without chemicals. However, biodynamic farming takes a broader approach, viewing the vineyard as an ecosystem, and incorporating astrological influences and lunar cycles. Biodynamic wines also avoid cellar manipulations such as adjusting yeast or acidity.
4. Drink Local
I was recently at an environmental fundraiser that paid careful attention to providing vegan meal options and flying in hi-profile environmental advocates. However, when I visited the bar I was shocked to see them serving non-sustainable, non-organic, non-biodynamic from the other side of the globe?!
I love foreign wine, but the cost and energy of transporting wine is not without its own environmental impact. Although it’s difficult to grow grapes organically in Virginia, many wineries, such as this one are making incredible strides towards reducing their environmental footprint. Drinking local not only helps the local economy, it helps the environment!
I was lucky enough to recently attend Drink What you Like‘s 5th annual Virginia Sparkling Wine Blind Tasting. A line up of 11 sparklers was presented to the tasting panel of 10 local winos at the very hospitable Tarara Winery in Leesburg, Virginia.
And if you were wondering, yes, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon!
The event was straightforward- all dry blanc de blanc (chardonnay!), all bubbly, with a Virginia focus and a straightforward ranking system.
The rankings might be surprising to bubbly drinkers and champagne lovers, alike.
If you had told me several years ago that my focus would be so heavily focused on Virginia wines I would’ve dismissed the notion. However, even this Francophile was astonished when the ranking lineup was revealed! Virginia offers some outstanding sparklers and surprising value.
Although the wines were primarily from Virginia, there were also examples of sparkling chardonnays from New York, California and France, as well.
Sparkling wine against the backdrop of Tarara Winery
I was partial to the Trump sparklers, as well as the Roederer Hermitage- and when I refer back to my notes what really pushed these wines to the top for me was their more feminine, elegant and well-balanced qualities.
Most of the tasting panel was surprised at Trump’s placing so highly over the esteemed Thibaut-Jannisson, a self-professed favorite for most. However, the esteemed French winemakers take cues from Champagne, marrying the gold standard of bubbly production with the unique Virginia terroir.
As is true in most cases, much of the voting likely had to do with the day- a perfect 70 degrees with a light breeze. Although I usually love the toasty, yeastiness of a true Champagne (the wine geek term for this quality is “Autolytic”), the first notes of spring had me craving something lighter.
The number one ranked wine is a superb value, ringing in at just $24, far less than the Piper-Hidsek, which typically runs between $40 and $50. All this goes to show that even trained palettes don’t always pick the priciest bottle when drinking blind, and the day’s circumstances really can influence even the most ingrained preferences.
Do you drink Virginia Sparkling Wine? What’s your favorite?
Although I love getting dressed up and going out, New Year’s Eve is my absolute least favorite night of the year to do so. The weather is always miserable, transportation a hassle, and places I usually enjoy tend to be jam packed and over-priced.
Last year, we decided to invite a few close friends over to celebrate at home and it was the most fun we’ve ever had! This year, we went for a repeat, and once again had a ball.
A roaring fire, music and a festive table set the tone for a celebratory evening in. I created a simple centerpiece with submerged greenery, berries and a floating candle, pulled out the monogrammed table linens, silver champagne bucket and called it good!
I’m into low-key entertaining that focuses on the food and wine, but couldn’t resist a few simple touches to make an evening in seem a bit more special.
Although I always love starting dinner parties with a sparkling rosé and a charcuterie board, for New Year’s Eve I upped the ante with a Grand Cru Champagne.
Cooking at our house is always a group effort, and we’re fortunate to be friends with some excellent gourmands who always contribute their talents; this year was no exception!
We looked to our collective southern roots- and our new Green Egg- when menu planning. Although last year’s New Year’s meal was a little more high-brow, this year we hickory smoked a pork butt. The traditional sides of collards, black eyed peas and corn bread were also there representing health, wealth, wisdom and luck in 2014.
Although the meal is traditionally eaten on the New Year’s Day, I also enjoyed leftovers. I figure I have 2 helpings of the traditional virtues coming my way in 2014!
We enjoyed red, white, rosé, and the requisite bubbles over the course of the evening.
After enjoying copious amounts of cheese and cured meats, we delved into two Spanish wines from Priorat for the main course.
Although I knew the Menut would stand up nicely to the hickory smoked meat, I wanted to compare it to another vintage, and so I picked up Zaumau from the same region. Guests were split on which was the favorite- some enjoyed the spicier and more fruit forward notes in the younger Menut, and others the slightly more subdued qualities of the latter. It will be interesting to see how the Menut continues to develop as it ages over the next 2-3 years.
For professional comparative reasons, I had a glass of each with my meal;) These hearty reds from Spain stood up nicely to the BBQ and it’s definitely a pairing I would re-create.
For midnight, I decided to go with a large format bottle of Premier Cru Champagne. Although many shy away from large format bottles, there’s something festive about this indulgence (and if you’re going to be consuming multiple bottles, it actually saves a few bucks!). This blanc de blanc was 100% Chardonnay. While I sometimes find these to be a bit one dimensional, the extra time allowed on the lees (or yeast) really rounded the Larmandier-Bernier out with gorgeous notes of champagne toastiness, almond and a fine mousse of bubbles.
Finally, we enjoyed a Late Harvest Petite Manseng from Linden Vineyards; a bottle purchased on our last visit to the esteemed Virginia winery. The sweetness of the dessert wine was balanced by firm acidity and notes of honeyed apricot- absolutely divine in front of the fire and a perfect way to end the evening!
We skipped watching the Times Square ball drop or making resolutions, but the combination of fantastic friends, food and wine made this New Year’s Eve an absolute success!
Did you enjoy any particularly great bottles of bubbly during your celebration? How did you celebrate this year?
Although I’m content to pair bubbly with just about anything (mac & cheese, anyone?), there are a few things worth noting about sparkling wine as we approach New Years Eve.
Just because it has bubbles, does NOT mean it’s called Champagne! (See wine pet peeves for more on this one!)
There are a number of ways to produce sparkling wine- “méthode Champenoise” or “méthode traditionelle” indicate that the wine has undergone a second fermentation, which produces the bubbles naturally. They can also be added through forced air, as is the case with many Proseccos. For a more in depth guide, check out Wine Folly’s excellent breakdown of the different methods!
This study says that drinking Champagne can help improve memory. I’ll drink to that!
The first sparkling wine ever produced was actually a mistake! Thank goodness for happy mistakes!
Although many people claim that Champagne gives worse hangovers than other wine, the alcohol in most sparkling wine is actually lower than in most still wines- generally around 11-12%. If you’re anything like me, it does tend to go down the hatch quickly, making it easy to consume more than you realize. Make sure to hydrate and enjoy your bubbly with food to avoid the dreaded hangover!
Although some bottles of vintage champagne can set you back hundreds of dollars, quality sparkling wine can be enjoyed at almost any price point. See my top picks ranging from $12 to $200 below!
Champalou Vouvray Cuvee des Fondraux is a French sparkler from the Loire Valley made from Chenin Blanc. It is incredibly aromatic with notes of jasmine and honeysuckle with an off dry finish. This food friendly wine retails at just over $20.
Charles Orban Rosé is a great pick for dry rosé fans, offering red fruit aromatics and a dry, lengthy finish. It retails for around $43.
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs This sparkler received 91 points from Wine Spectator. The 100% Pinot Noir is full bodied, balanced and elegant- all for less than $20.
Rossinyol Rosé This cava producer uses an aromatic and rare grape called Trepat to produce a lovely dry rosé with notes of strawberry on the nose. This small production Spanish wine retails for just under $20.
GruberRosé This Austrian sparkler is made from the Zweigelt grape. This hard to pronounce varietal goes down easy and isn’t hard on the wallet, either! Lively and crisp, with notes of strawberry and raspberry, this wine retails for under $15!
Moet Imperial offers traditional champagne yeasty notes and excellent acidity for around $45. This wine also received 91 points from Wine Spectator.
Krug Grand Cuvée is what I would choose if I were to splurge on a special bottle. Ringing in at $180, this 97 point wine offers incredible balance, acidity and finish for under $200.
Bohigas Cava is one of my go to cava producers. For those who like their sparklers on the sweeter side, their Semi-Sec fits the bill. Maintaining classic cava crispness, it has just the right amount of residual sugar to satisfy those with a sweet tooth at $18-21.
Voveti Prosecco is a favorite among critics and casual drinkers, alike. Made from the Glera grape, this easy drinking bubbly is aromatic and fruit forward with notes of peach, apricot and pear for around $12-14.
Jansz Premium Cuvée This sparkling wine from Tasmania, Australia is from a lesser known, but fantastic sparkling wine region. Aromatic with notes of honeysuckle, this wine is crisp and acidic on the palette. It retails for around $24.
What is your favorite Sparkling Wine? Do you prefer Champagne? Cava? Prosecco?