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Wine Tasting Uncorked: Old World vs. New World Dry White Wines

Old World versus New World. Most people have heard this phraseology, but do we really know what it means?

The third tasting in the Wine Tasting Uncorked series compared Old World and New World wines of the same grape variety in an effort to illustrate the profound effect of climate on varietal character and wine style. We also added another tasting technique as you will see below. 

If you missed the post on the first tasting in the series (Style & Quality of White Wines), check out the blog post here. If you missed the post on the second tasting in the series (Terroir & White Wines), check out the block post here.

This tasting looked at two noble grape varietals, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

NOTE: Noble grapes are also known as international varieties which are grape varieties that are widely planted in most of the major wine producing regions and have widespread appeal.

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What is Old World wine?

Old World wine generally refers to wine made in Europe. However, its cultural roots go back to the Roman Empire where the first techniques to produce, store and distribute wine were developed. Since this time, Old World wine has evolved through generations of family winemaking. Old World Wine Regions include:

  • Italy
  • France
  • Spain
  • Portugal
  • Austria
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Israel
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Switzerland
  • England
  • Macedonia

The Old World style is based on traditional and sometimes antiquated winemaking practices that have been passed down through the generations. Many of these practices are now regulated by strict laws to preserve an area’s authenticity. Old World wine styles are not limited to Old World regions, winemakers sometimes create wine in New World regions with an Old World style.

What is New World wine?

The term New World refers to countries colonized by Western Europe and regions that are new to wine production. New World wine regions adopted the successful ideas from the Old World and expanded on them. Most of the New World wine regions were started within the last 100 years and benefit from modern agriculture, such as vineyards designed to fit tractors and industrial irrigation. New World Wine Regions include:

  • United States
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Argentina
  • Chile
  • South Africa
  • China
  • India
  • Uruguay
  • Brazil
  • Mexico
  • Canada

Without entrenched traditions, New World areas seek to push the boundaries of what is possible. The areas focus on technology and efficiency and tend to be more susceptible to popular trends. The New World style focuses on commercial success and making wine that is ready to be enjoyed today. Because New World regions focus on popular trends, these techniques tend to spread more quickly into other regions.

As with the other tastings, I continue to have everyone prepay for the event so that I could buy the appropriate wine that would allow us to compare Old World versus New World white wines. I set the event up as a seated, guided wine tasting (see the pics below) that would allow members to taste the four wines side-by side, comparing and contrasting the flavors and aromas.

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Prior to sitting down for the tasting, we enjoyed an array of appetizers that everyone brought.

To start the tasting, I did a quick review of several things that I had introduced in the first tasting to aid us in our discussion of the wines:

  • The basic steps of wine tasting
  • Focusing on sight, smells and tastes
  • Wine tasting terms

I also reviewed the concept of terroir from the second tasting.

If you are interested in learning more about the aforementioned “lessons” check out my other blog post that goes over the notes I created to pass out to those in attendance at the wine tasting.

The line-up for the wine tasting was:

  1. Rivata Prosecco. Veneto, Italy.
  2. (Domaine Blanchet Gilles) Blanchet Pouilly Fumé (2013). Pouilly Fumé , France.
  3. Grey Rock Sauvignon Blanc (2013). Marlborough, New Zealand.
  4. Chateau de Rully Blanc (2010). Rully, France.
  5. William Hill Chardonnay (2012). Napa Valley, United States.

We started with an apéritif of Rivata Prosecco (Italy) to stimulate the palate prior to the comparison wine tasting. At around $12 a bottle, the prosecco was enjoyed by many. The Rivata Prosecco was off-dry and medium-bodied. The flavors were fresh, elegant and clean with predominant flavors of peach and almond. This prosecco also has notes of white flowers and peaches on the nose.

Prosecco

During this tasting, we also talked about the little-know details of Prosecco.

Prosecco is made from Glera (the wine varietal formerly known as Prosecco). Under European law, only sparkling wines made with grapes grown in this region can have the name Prosecco, since the names of specific beverages, including some sparkling wines, are protected.

It is made using the Charmat method, which consists of first making a still wine out of the grapes, and then putting that wine in a pressurized steel tank with specific amounts of sugar and yeast. While in the tanks, the yeast and sugar react together to make carbon dioxide, which carbonates the wine. Fermenting the wine in steel tanks instead of in the bottle preserves the taste of the grapes, which gives the wine its fresh, fruity flavor, but also means that can’t be aged for very long. All varieties have a low alcohol content compared to other wines, averaging about 11% alcohol.

The two main varieties of Prosecco wine are spumante, which is fully sparkling, and frizzante, which is semi-sparkling. Spumante wine undergoes a secondary fermentation process, whereas frizzante wine has carbon dioxide added later prior to bottling. Both varieties are also labeled “Brut”, “Dry” or “Extra Dry,” referring to the sweetness or sugar content measured in grams per Liter (g/L). “Dry” (17-35 g/L) and “Extra Dry” (12-20 g/L) are generally more common than “Brut” (less than 15 g/L).

Unlike Prosecco, Champagne undergoes its secondary fermentation in the bottle it will eventually be sold in, rather than in a tank. This makes it less fruity, and allows it to age for years, as opposed to months.

I created a handout with the wine information listed so that people could keep their own notes and keep their glasses organized. To recreate this tasting, feel free to use my tasting sheet: Old World vs New World Whites Lesson 3 – Place Setting. The circles on the the tasting sheet are to help keep your wine glasses straight. :)

We started by pouring about one to two ounces each of the first two wines. We compared the appearance, nose and taste (including acidity, balance and finish) of the first two wines before pouring the third and fourth wines and then comparing all of them in the same manner.

The first wine, Blanchet Pouilly Fumé (2013), pronounced: pwee foo may, is from the Domaine Blanchet Gilles winery from the Pouilly Fumé appellation in Loire, France (Old World Wine).

Blanchet is a small, family-run winery on eight acres in the heart of Pouilly Fumé. Pouilly Fumé’s smoky “gunflint” aroma is its trademark, especially notable in wines grown on limestone soils. Unlike Sancerre, its neighbor on the left bank of the Loire, Pouilly Fumé is dedicated exclusively to the production of white wine, growing Sauvignon Blanc and Chasselas. Just less than 3,000 acres total comprise the appellation, which is located on the right bank of the Loire.

Since the second tasting in this series, we have been talking about the effect of terroir on the wine. Several types of soil are found in Pouilly Fumé . There is limestone (aka “caillottes”) on the east and west sides of the vineyard, Kimmerdigin limestone with oyster traces (“marne à huitre”) and limestone-clay and siliceous clay. This appellation has a temperate climate with a continental tendency. The rainfall averages 24-31 inches per year.

Given these soil and climate features, wines from this region tend to have a pale straw yellow appearance, have intense aromas of grapefruit and white flowers and have a light-to-medium-body with crisp acidity, bright citrus flavors and flinty minerality.

Overall impressions of the Blanchet Pouilly Fumé (2013): Light yellow color with green reflections. Crisp, Citrus, Lemon, Light to Medium-bodied. Features flavors of citrus fruit with a hint of flintiness. From Vintner website: “Siliceous soil produces fine wines, light and fruity and minerality. It is a light yellow color with green reflections. Drink between 10 and 12 ° C (50-53 ° F). To accompany shellfish, sea fish and river, cheeses from cow, goat and sheep and aperitif. Consume within 3-4 years.” Priced at $18, this wine would pair well with seafood and salads.

Pouilly Fume

The second wine, Grey Rock Sauvignon Blanc (2013) is from the Marlborough region of New Zelanand (New World Wine).

The first wine companies and growers planted grapes in the modern age of Marlborough’s winemaking history in the 1970s (this followed pioneering grape growing, winemaking and commercial activity as early as 1870s). Marlborough offers a distinctive pungency and zest of fruit flavors, in particular Sauvignon Blanc.

The New Zealand region currently has 23,600 hectares (1 hectar = 2.47 acres) of land planted with grapes. New Zealand’s first exportation of wine in 1963 came ten years before grapes were even planted in Marlborough. However, Marlborough is now the largest wine producing region in the country, with 79% of New Zealand’s total active wine production.

As for the terroir, Marlborough is located at the top of the South Island, on the east coast, with mountains to the west. It is one of New Zealand’s sunniest and driest areas. In these bright, but relatively ‘cool’ climate conditions, the grapes have the advantage of a long slow, flavor-intensifying ripening period.  The average daily temperature during summer is nearly 75 degrees F. However, with cool, clear nights, acid levels are high in the grapes.

Marked day and night temperature variations are a key factor behind the ability of Marlborough grapes to retain both fresh, vibrant fruit and crisp, herbaceous characters. The contrast between day and night also helps to enhance the color development in the skins of Pinot Noir.

Within the region, viticulture has been developed primarily on sites with moderate low fertility and a noticeably stony, sandy loam top soil overlying deep layers of free-draining shingle, as found in the viticulturally developed areas of the Wairau and Awatere Valleys.  These shallow, fast draining, low fertility soils help to produce a lush, aromatic ripe wine because they reduce the vines vigor (the vegetative growth of the vine).  If a a more herbaceous style of wine is desired, vineyard sites with greater water retentive soils and moderate fertility are chosen.

Overall impression of the Grey Rock Sauvignon Blanc (2013). Exuberant nose with aromas of ripe tropical and citrus fruits. Compared to the first wine, this Sauvignon Blacn has a fuller alcohol weight and mouth feel, a greater concentration of fruit and a more immediate rush of sensation in the mouth due to the riper taste.

The Grey Rock Sauvignon Blanc is fresh, tropical, fruity and light-bodied. Fragrant white flower notes give way to a smooth, elegant and spicy mix of flavors, with notes of Asian pear, peach and citrus. A sea salt minerality and a crunchy acidity come in on the finish. From vintner: “Greyrock Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has fresh, juicy grapefruit and gooseberry flavors with a rich, lingering finish. Great as an aperitif, or try it with seafood and salads. It will cellar comfortably for 2-3 years. Best served lightly chilled. 89 points (Wine Spectator).” At $15 a bottle, this was the favorite for those in attendance at the wine tasting.

Grey Rock Sauv Blanc

The third wine, Chateau de Rully Blanc (2010) is from the Rully (pronounced: reuh yee) appellation of Burgundy France. This is 100% Chardonnay and is an Old World wine.

Although Rully is located in the Côte Châlonnaise (pronounced: coat shal oh naze), the terroirs, the history and style of Rully wines make them more similar to Côte de Beaune (pronounced: coat deh bone), which is one of the wines we had in tasting 2. As a reminder, the Cote de Beaune is a key wine-producing district in Burgundy, eastern France. A narrow strip of land less than 3 miles (5km) wide, and running for 16 miles (25km) in a north-easterly direction, primarily limestone. The importance of this escarpment to Cote de Beaune viticulture is hard to understate; not only does it protect the vineyards from prevailing westerly winds, it also provides gently sloping, free-draining vineyard sites with near-perfect southern aspects.

The Cote de Beaune’s most favored vineyards are those on the slopes of the Cote d’Or. The limestone-rich soils and sunny exposure in these sites make for excellent terroir Elegant, Pear, Mineral, Medium-bodied. One of Burgundy’s best regional wines, this selection is loaded with ripe pear flavors and buttered toast overtones.

Both red and white wines from Rully are good value for your money. with 25 Premiers Cru status (a French official classifications of a superior grade, or the vineyard that produces it).

Rully’s soil is limestone and clay totaling over 790 acres. Rully village sits below the eastern side of a low-lying limestone ridge named La Montagne de la Folie, whose name translates literally as ‘Mountain of Madness’. The ridge is effectively a southern extension of the Cote de Beaune.

The finest Rully vineyards are on the eastern slopes of La Montagne de la Folie. These sites benefit from light-reflective, free-draining limestone soils and an easterly aspect which enjoys the best of the morning sunshine. The lower-lying vineyards, away from the ridge, tend to have lighter soils with less limestone and more sandstone. These sites typically give lighter-bodied wines that are best consumed within just a few years of vintage.

Because it lacks the prestige of the communes just to the north around Beaune and Nuits, Rully’s best vintages provide relatively inexpensive access to some high-quality Burgundy wines. Some of the best examples of Cremant de Bourgogne come from Rully, giving it a reputation as an all-rounder rather than a specialist in any particular wine style.

The Rully title was created in 1939, around the same time as most of the other Chalonnaise appellations. Bouzeron had to wait until 1998. More than 20 vineyard sites in Rully have been marked out as worthy of Premier Cru status, representing around a quarter of the appellation’s output and about one-sixth of its 865 acres (350ha) of vines.

Chardonnay wines from the Côte Châlonnaise (pronounced: coat shal oh naze) offer some of the best value in all of Burgundy.

Overall impressions of the Chateau de Rully Blanc (2010) Bottom line: Elegant, Pear, Mineral, Medium-bodied. Rich and ripe with juicy pineapple and pear flavors. This wine has a supple and velvety texture with flavors of butter, pears, and soft minerals. This Rully is crisp with a smooth finish. Several of the people at the tasting noted that it smelled and tasted a little bit like kettle corn. Cost is around $25.

Rully

The fourth and final wine, William Hill Chardonnay (2012) is from Napa Valley, California (US), New World.

Made from a mix of Chardonnay grapes grown in the cool Carneros and the warmer St. Helena AVAs (American Viticultural Area) is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), United States Department of the Treasury). Unlike most European wine appellations of origin, an AVA specifies only a geographical location from which at least 85% of the grapes used to make a wine must have been grown. American Viticultural Area designations do not limit the type of grapes grown, the method of vinification, or the crop yield. Some of those factors may, however, be used by the petitioner to justify uniqueness of place when proposing a new AVA.

2012 vintage in Napa Valley was outstanding. There were relatively mild conditions throughout the growing season, paving the way for even ripening of the fruit. A few days of rain threatened the early part of the harvest, but all fears were assuaged when gusting winds came through to dry the vines. Wines from this vintage are showing excellent flavor and structure.

This William Hill Estate 2012 wine was harvested by hand and gently pressed as whole clusters. After the juice settled overnight, it was racked (transferred to barrels through a tiered rack, rather than a pump, using gravity) and inoculated with three yeast strains. The majority of this wine was fermented in tank at a cellar temperature of 65 degrees F.  74% of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation (see below) and sur lie aging in combination of new and used American oak barrels. The lees were stirred by hand weekly to enhance the creamy mouthfeel of this wine. 0.62 residual sugar. 13.8% alcohol.

DEFINITION: Malolactic fermentation (also known as malolactic conversion or MLF) is a process in winemaking in which tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in grape must, is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid. Malolactic fermentation often occurs shortly after the end of the primary fermentation but can sometimes run concurrently with it. The process is standard for most red wine production and for some white grape varieties such as Chardonnay, where it can impart a “buttery” flavor from diacetyl, a by-product of the reaction. Also referred to as second fermentation. Malic acid is typically associated with the taste of green apples while lactic acid is richer and more buttery tasting. Grapes produced in cool regions tend to be high in acidity, much of which comes from the contribution of malic acid. Malolactic fermentation generally enhances the body and flavor persistence of wine, producing wines of greater palate softness. Many winemakers also feel that better integration of fruit and oak character can be achieved if malolactic fermentation occurs during the time the wine is in barrel.

Overall impressions of the William Hill Chardonnay (2012): This medium-bodied Chardonnay has crisp acidity and minerality. It has a range of fruits from green apples and peaches to pears and tropical fruits. The pear and apple flavors are the most pronounced, with hints of vanilla. For the vintner, “Ripe tree fruit flavors of baked apple with layers of caramel, brown spice and toasted oak.” The barrel fermentation and lees aging add rich notes of smoky butter and sour cream to this complex Chardonnay. Despite having a rating of 91 points (Wine Enthusiast), this was not well-received in the group. In fact, my most notable comment was that it’s aroma was that of a funky, wet carpet. While most did not like this Chardonnay, aerating it seemed to make it more palatable to those who did not like it. Cost is around $16.

William Hill Chardonnay

This third tasting of the series was a great event! These types of tastings give us an opportunity to really study what we like (and don’t like) about each of the wines, while sharing our thoughts with the group. In this tasting, we looked at the effects of smelling wine before as well as after swirling it in the glass. We have also looked at the effect of warmer temperature on white wine, and the combination of oak and Chardonnay again. Finally, we have explored the effect of climate on varietal character and wine style.

Lesson 3 wines

You can see from the photos below that the members of the group took notes and checked the color of each wine. After our detailed tasting, describing the appearance, aroma, taste and overall impressions, we brought our food back over to check out how the wines held up against different types of food. All of these wines were food friendly, but we didn’t notice a like (or dislike) of the wines that was any different than when we tasted the wines separately.

Event Collage

I’m excited to move on to the fourth tasting in the series that will look at the style and quality of sparkling wines. The next tasting considers how to assess sparkling wine’s special feature, it’s bubbles (or “mousse”). It also looks at variations in sparkling wine style from different countries, examines how you can make quality distinctions in these wines, and finally considers relative value for money among them.

Check back in Octoer for the next blog when we have our fourth guided tasting in the series.

Cheers,

Danielle

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