There's been a lot of debate in the wine world of late, the gist of which revolves around whether popular, top-selling new world wines deserve their acclaim. It's an interesting debate, for sure. Are Napa Valley cabs every bit as good as their Bordeaux-based brethren? For that matter, should fruit-forward, higher alcohol new world wines -- many of which leverage every trick in the modern winemaking book -- even be compared in the same breath to traditionally-made, more restrained old world bottles?
It seems like two varietals in particular are taking most of the heat: chardonnay and pinot noir. You've more than likely heard the kerfuffle about chards so oaky you could grill a steak on 'em, and pinots tasting of enough boozy blueberries to make you suspect you might actually drinking syrah. Well, new world fanatics can crow all day about how wine tasting and evaluation is subjective, but that argument can only go so far.
In truth, specific wine tasting standards do exist, dictating what practically every known grape varietal is actually supposed to taste like - and wine experts for years have used them to guide their assessments of wine. So if you're serious about your vino (or at least you think you are), then it's high time you realized why most oenophiles lust for Côte d'Or more than a new world Californian.
Here's a detailed breakdown of two spectacular old world wines, and what makes them shine so much brighter than their new world cousins.
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Burgundy is famous for making insanely great wines using precisely two grapes: chardonnay and pinot noir; as such, many of the standards for what killer pinots and chards should taste like are based upon wines from this region. Classic Burgundian pinot noirs are elegant and nuanced, evoking smells and tastes of soft cherry, strawberry and raspberry flavors. A recent tasting of the E. Guigal Côte Rôtie 'La Mouline' 2000 proved to be a master class in old world pinot wine making, wowing us with its mature, yet graceful palate of smooth, ripe cherry-currant and subtle spice. After about five minutes in the glass, the wine revealed its full-throttle base of tangy-sweet fruit, but still illustrated the balance of acidity, tannins and finish without the cloying hangover quality of higher alcohol pinots (the Guigal rings up at a tastefully dry 13 percent ABV.) With ten years of bottle aging completed, this wine drank like a dream, showing the mileage a fantastically made wine can yield.
For our old world chardonnay tasting, we reached for one hailing from yet another bastion of Burgundian winemaking: a Pouilly-Fuissé. If ever there was a wine to snap you out of your standard "I'm so over chardonnay" retort, this is it. The Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Fuissé 2008 mesmerized us with its fresh nose of honey-crisp apple and tantalized us with its silky-yet-flinty mouthfuls of peach nectar and pineapple. No overbearing oakiness here; instead, nothing but the clean, uncomplicated stone fruit flavors yielded by mostly stainless steel fermentation. Instead of the typical California chardonnay (buttered toast, anyone?), you experience everything you wish for in a white wine: lean, refreshing, slurpable goodness.
Now it's your turn to taste why old world wines still set the standard for what new world wines want to be when they grow up. Still feeling doubtful of old world's claim to the throne? Blind taste a new world wine next to an old world wine and put your (wine) money where your mouth is.