When I first started paying attention to the wine world back in 1978 it was conveniently carved into two parts: The Old World, mainly Europe, led by France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal and parts of Eastern Europe; and The New World, led by the United States, Australia, Chile, Argentina and South Africa, with more recent additions from New Zealand, Canada, China and — coming soon — Uruguay.
The dividing line isn't geographic nor is it only about age or how long a region has been producing serious wine. In short, it's less about experience and more about style or philosophy.
For instance, it no longer matters that the Spaniards planted grapes as early as the mid-1500s in Chile and Argentina. What counts is that today, South American wines are predominately varietal (named after a single grape variety) and that the prominence of South American wine is less than 30 years old, hence the designation "New World."
In fact, that scenario pretty much sums up the story of New World wines. Remember, prior to 1966 and the opening of the historic and iconic Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley, which was designed to produce wine and host hundreds of visitors daily, New World wines of distinction were a drop in the bucket.
On the other hand, France, Italy, Spain and Germany — to name but a few Old World producing countries — have been growing grapes, making wine and exporting it, in some cases, for centuries.
In the Old World much is made of the wine's origin despite the fact many wines are made with well-known grapes.
The tendency was, and is, to associate the wine with its appellation or the place that it comes from rather than any single grape name. Hence, varietal wine like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, tempranillo, pinot noir and nebbiolo gives way to names such as Bordeaux, Rioja, Burgundy, Barolo and many more.
Over time, place always matter more then the grapes because it's unique. It's with this in mind that the notion of terroir was born and with it the accompanying idea that a sense of place can't be copied. For in the end, wine whose ultimate DNA is site-driven is so much more interesting than a wine that is only grape-driven — it's bigger.
This all sounds good and noble, but doesn't everyone have terroir?
If Pauillac in the Haut-Médoc is the holy grail of cabernet sauvignon in France, so is Oakville in California or Puente Alto in Chile. If Puligny Montrachet is the soul of chardonnay in Burgundy, what about Gualtallary in Mendoza, or California's Sonoma Coast, or Ontario's Prince Edward County? Is the idea of "New" and "Old" World really relevant any more?
Some would suggest the terms have little or no meaning in 2016 — and I tend to agree. My sense is that people make wine all over the world with a certain panache or flair and with unlimited access to information and technology as well as winegrowing and winemaking techniques. More importantly, each has its own terroir, in effect making the notion of "Old" or "New World" wines more or less obsolete.
The good news is the best are pursuing a new path in wine — something I like to refer to as Next World wines.
Italian winemaker and globe-trotting consultant, Alberto Antonini, is one such advocate. Antonini has a sparkle in his eye when he talks about his wine philosophy, which could be easily summed up as doing less, not more. It's not an easy concept to sell to winery clients who have to pay more to do less. But when they taste the wine... well, when they taste the wine, all is forgiven.
Years ago Antonini hooked up with Chilean soil specialist, Pedro Parra. He was hoping to find the final piece of the winemaking puzzle — the part where you can relate the soil or, to be more precise, the sub-soil of a vineyard to the final structure, taste and quality of the wine that could be made there. It changed everything for the Italian, who now does everything he can (which isn't much) to let the wine reveal its soul.
Antonini's favourite methods of making wine begin with precision farming. That means investing time and money to analyze your site and make sure you have the right vines and rootstock for the many different iterations of subsoils on your property. When the planting begins, the farming is natural, with no pesticides or herbicides and, if possible, organic winegrowing becomes the goal.
Antonini tends to look to the region's past — as much as two or three generations back — to a time when farmers had to survive by their wits. When there were no quick chemical fixes. This is where you find authenticity. Since then the market has become homogenized by a couple of recipes. One in particular is the French Bordeaux recipe, which has resulted in concentration, low yields and plenty of new oak in small barrels dominating the unique character of wines all around the world. It's a harsh assessment but true for so many modern wines.
By comparison, Antonini's central philosophy is treating the fruit and its resulting wine in a very gentle fashion. Many are doing that from the vineyard to the crusher, but Antonini goes much farther, working with concrete and large European vats or foudres for fermentation and storage rather than stainless steel tanks and French oak barriques. The results are very pure wines — wines with energy and vibrancy.
For Antonini the future means making exceptional wines all around the world. As he says, "The whole world has diversity — we need only look for it and celebrate it."
In this market, you can explore the Next World by tasting Antonini's Tuscan wines along with a few from wineries around the globe where he is currently consulting.
From his home vineyard in Tuscany, you can investigate a lovely, fresh white blend of vermentino, malvasia fina and ansonica labelled Poggiotondo Bianco ($17). From British Columbia look for any wine from Haywire Winery but in particular the Haywire 2014 Switchback Vineyard Wild Ferment ($25) fermented in a clay amphora on native yeast with no intervention. From Argentina we suggest Altos Las Hormigas Malbec ($17) or the Altos Las Hormigas Reserva Valle de Uco ($30). Finally, a fresh bargain white from the Argento Winery in Argentina labelled Esquinas De Argento Cool Climate Selection Pinot Grigio ($14).
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com.
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