Old vs. New: February red cuvées offer taste of both
It’s really an age-old debate. Tradition versus new-fangled modernity. Wisdom versus edgy smarts. Subtle charm versus unrestrained boldness. And, in this case, we’re talking about wine, not some family-owned business that falls into the hands of the youthful upstart. Wine critics will rave about “Old World” balance of one wine, and then turn around to compliment another wine’s immediately drinkable “New World” rambunctious-ness. They generalize that wines from France, Italy and other European environs possess “Old World” characteristics of subtlety and elegance and New World wines (from everywhere else) come with lusciousness, lower acidity and higher alcohol levels. Who’s to say if these generalizations hold true or which style is even better? You are! This month, members of Hinsdale’s Inspired Wine Club are offered a treat of two red wine blends that should showcase the two styles: the Syrah-dominating French blend versus the California Central Coast red blend with only 2% Syrah. Surprisingly, they make for fair competitors and perhaps turn those generalizations upside down, but if you’re like those of us here in Hinsdale Cellars, you’ll find them both to be winners.
Pi’nouf 2009 Languedoc Red, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Pronounced “peee –nooof,” here is an excellent representative of wines from a part of France considered to be the world’s single biggest wine region, making more wine than the entire United States and “on some of the world’s oldest soils.” Though “Old World” wines are prized for their delicate nature, this Languedoc-Roussillon specimen may throw you off a bit. Even its name translates as “bold, rich, persistent,” and its rich, fleshy Syrah plays heavily in that brashness. With 65% Syrah, 25% Grenache, and 10% Carignan, Pi’nouf presents as regal cherry red with purple sheen. It is deeply fruity with a lushness that evokes bittersweet chocolate-covered cherries with smoky vanilla notes. As the winemaker notes, “the palate is medium-to-full-bodied with a long, lingering finish and enough supple tannins to give some classic ‘grip.’” Watch this wine pair perfectly with your heartiest fare or alongside a potent collection of after-dinner cheeses.
Bonny Doon Vineyard 2009 “Contra,” Central Coast, California
Ironically described as a red Rhone blend, this mix of 55% Carignan, 15% Grenache, 14% Mourvedre, 7% Petite Sirah, 5% Zinfandel, and 2% Syrah is grown and produced nowhere near the Rhone River. Though considered a “New World” wine, it comes mostly from “old-fangled” grape varieties and from mostly older vineyards, even if they are in Contra Costa County. It is gorgeously rustic with a nose of cherry, licorice, cassis and blackberry. On the palate, it holds a bright acidity with silky tannins. The winemaker describes “Contra” as having important contrasts of “luscious, opulent fruitiness” with a certain degree of austerity, concluding it’s got the “yin and yang of soft and hard, of fruit and earth….” The Wine Advocate described it as “stunning.” The San Francisco Chronicle included it among its top 100 wines for 2010. We think it marries as well with a hearty Provencal stew as it does with a medium-rare grilled Black Angus ribeye.