Food and Drink 

The French connection

After what seems like years of endless wine tastings, it’s clear the patina of West Coast wine knowledge continues to age and deepen, much like the lustre of an old dining room table.

The sold-out Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, which ended last week, marked 28 years of consumer interest in fine wine, and in an unexpected turnabout it was the Old World, not the upstart New, that generated an outpouring of vino enthusiasm.

The wine world talks incessantly about wine style, mostly in a New World versus Old World context, but what does that really mean?

The difference, primarily, is one of style. And while it’s a bit too simplistic to say, New World wines are richer, riper and usually more alcoholic on the palate. It’s no less true – or simplistic – to claim that Old World/European wines tend to be leaner in structure, and bear more acid and firmer tannins. In most cases, they are crafted to accompany food.

That said, a little of both generalizations is true for each style, as many discovered at the Playhouse. In that spirit l thought it might be fun to explore the New World versus Old World conundrum as it pertains to France and four key grape varieties. This is not a challenge, but rather an explanation of what you can expect from certain grapes as they appear in wines from across the globe.

Sauvignon Blanc tasted outside of France is repeatedly described as being like Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé. The problem is many consumers are simply unaware that fresh mineral crisp flavours of Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé and Touraine are linked to sauvignon blanc because under French appellation law producers emphasize place name and not grape variety.

In the New World, the best examples mimic the Loire-style, offering smoky, mineral, pear and green apple flavours, leaner structure and higher acidity. The best sites for doing so are Casablanca, Leyda and Limari in Chile, Marlborough in New Zealand and the Constantia/Coastal Region of South Africa.

Food brings the New and Old World examples closer together. Clams, green lip mussels, goat’s cheese, pasta and chicken salads rule the New World, while chèvre, any fish in sorrel sauce, onion tarts and mussels would be the French equivalent.

New World: Errazuriz Sauvignon Blanc 2005, Casablanca, Chile $15

Old World: Chateau De Sancerre 2003, Loire Valley, France $23

Chardonnay is wonderful vehicle for this kind of grape detective work. The latest vintages of New World chardonnay are garnering renewed respect for crisp, fresh styling. Worldwide, the best new chardonnay vines have been pushed to the coolest and most marginal vineyard sites, in terms of weather, where acidity and fruit are intensified long before the grape gets to the winery. This delivers more intensely flavoured fruit and more vibrant, mouth-watering acidity. California’s Sonoma Coast, Monterey and Santa Barbara lead the rush, with plenty of help from cool parts of New Zealand and Australia.

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