This post was originally written for Vinspire and is published here with their kind permission.
I have been organising wine tasting sessions at Theatre of Wine in Tufnell Park, London for a couple of years now for the Wine Society of my amateur orchestra: the (somewhat-misleadingly, grandly-titled) Camden Symphony Orchestra Wine Society. I usually select a theme, run it by the chaps and chapesses at the shop and then let them do the hard work of selecting the wines and presenting them. The purpose of our sessions is not only to have some fun and quaff a bit of wine, but also designed so that we learn something about the wonderful world of wine. For our latest session I selected the theme: old stalwarts versus young pretenders. In this session the concept that I had was comparing and contrasting the styles of beloved traditional power houses in the Old World with the up and coming, exciting New World parvenus looking to usurp their more traditional cousins.
The session was led by Jason, our erstwhile guide during these sessions, and assisted by Sam. In total we were eighteen tasters, all in high spirits (not at all linked to the pub that we convened in before the tasting) and ready to learn.
I expected that the tasting would go a little something like this: “here is a truffley, earthy Burgundian Pinot Noir, here is a fruity Otagan Pinot Noir – look they’re different”. However, this would be the obvious way to run a session like this and those clever clogs at Theatre of Wine eschew such banalities. Jason explained at the outset, that instead he tried to find Old World and New World styles that complimented each other, were priced as similarly as possible and were similar in more ways than they were different. This then made the decision about which you preferred all the more difficult. We were up to the challenge though.
So, onto the wines:
Challenge One – Riesling
2013 Gunderloch Riesling Trocken from Rheinhessen (£15.30) vs 2011 Pegasus Bay Bel Canto from Waipura, New Zealand (£18.20).
The German Riesling was poised and balanced with good minerality to it, whereas the NZ Riesling was more obviously tropical-fruit driven and more body to it. For me, the preference to the wine would all depend on the occasion and/or the food you were having with it. I awarded the round to the German wine (quelle surprise), but most others in the group (including one German – tut tut) said they preferred the NZ wine.
Challenge Two – Chenin Blanc
2003 Eric Morgot from Savennières, Loire (£23.50) vs Beaumont Hope Marguerite from Walker Bay, Western Cape, SA (£19.30). Here we were comparing two wines that clearly had an age difference; the Loire wine was subtly perfumed with fruity stone fruit notes on the palate and an underlying nuttiness, whereas the SA wine was much more overtly aromatic with a lovely brightness to it. I’ve been slow to get into Chenin, but in this round I did particularly enjoy the SA wine and awarded it the win.
Challenge Three – Pinot Noir
2012 Remoriquet Hautes Cote de Nuits from Burgundy (£17.60) vs 2013 Cantina Terlano from Alto Adige, Italy (£17.40). In this round Italy was classed as a young pretender because this grape is not normally associated with the region. The Burgundy was actually quite disappointing, I found it too bitter and lacking in body; whereas the Italian wine had that lovely combination of red fruits and truffle to it, perhaps even a little spice and sweetness too. There was only one winner here (Italy).
Challenge Four – Tempranillo
2002 Decenio Rioja Reserva from Spain (£12.50) vs 2006 Mazza Tempranillo from Western Australia (£21.00). I found the Rioja wine surprisingly sharp and astringent despite a promising nose of vanilla, black fruit and chocolate. The Australian wine was deeper and smoother with nicely integrated tannins; it did cost markedly more money, but I thought that it showed a lot of class and upstaged its more famous counterpart.
Challenge Five – Zinfandel/Plavac Mali
2010 Bura Dingac from Peljesac Peninsula, Croatia (£42.00) vs 2011 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel from Sonoma, USA (£33.50). Jason threw us a real curve ball here. What can link these two wines? Well, apparently the little-known Croatian grape Plavac Mali is a direct relative of Zinfandel. The Croatian wine was incredibly confusing: slightly perfumed, oddly vegetal, oily/fishy notes coupled with seaweed and liquorice; it was unlike anything I’d ever tried before. The Sonoma wine was much more accessible, very fruity with a slight sweetness to it; it avoided falling in to that over-done trap that some Zins can stumble in to. I had to award the round to Sonoma – but the Croatian wine still intrigues me.
So there you have it; four out of the five rounds that we went through I preferred the young upstart wine to the old stalwart. I would surmise that this is often because the old stalwarts tend to have a higher price tag for the same quality of wine as a New World equivalent. I think it also demonstrates the innovation and dynamism that underpins a lot of the most exciting producers in the New World and can sometimes be lacking in Old World wines.
I’d like to thank Jason and Sam, as ever, for hosting us so well and with such good grace (we can get a little rowdy…).
All of the prices quoted above are for the prices in Theatre of Wine itself, which does not have an internet ordering service; but you can ring them up to make orders for UK wide delivery – contact details are available on their website.