In 1492, Italian, Christopher Columbus, set out from Spain for the “Indies” and bumped into the Bahamas, Cuba and the Americas along the way. Apparently not that good at geography, but now famous for discovering the “New World”, he opened up a whole new realm to European influences (both good and bad). Roll forward over 500 years to today when, with GPS and a sat-nav, it's obvious that India (and the far east) is not where he expected it to be!
So that's one up to the Italians/Spanish in the new world exploration league.
Following on from Columbus, the missionaries introduced Pais vines to both north and south America for the making of sacramental wines. Once considered almost worthless, seriously old Pais vineyards in Chile are now much sought after by winemakers wanting to show a true sense of 'place' in their wines, rather than just the varietal character of the usual, popular European grapes such as Cabernet/Merlot for reds, or Chardonnay/Sauvignon for whites. Check out our new range from “Vina Bouchon” for examples of both red & white Pais and also old vine Carignan & Semillon based wines.
“But what about Malbec?”, I hear you cry! How did that grape take over Argentina?
There used to be a lot of Malbec grown in Bordeaux and, in the late 1800's, when the governor of Mendoza wanted vines, the person he chose to find some was French, so, lots of cuttings later, Malbec, which turned out to be well-suited to the local climate, became the number one red grape in Argentina, but it nearly didn't survive! Low grape prices meant the vineyards weren't financially viable providing for just local market consumption. Exporting was the way to go... and it worked, really well. The variety is now synonymous with Argentina and much more is also being planted over the border in Chile. In the U.K., it's the 'go to' grape for red wine drinkers. £10 a bottle, £20, £50, £100, it doesn't seem to matter. Malbec is king! Our 2015 Los Haroldos Reserve has recently been well received by several well known wine critics. In stock now at a very reasonable price.
If you're looking for something more off the beaten track, why not give Uruguay a go? Juicy, berry fruit?...then try the 'fist-pumping' Los Vientos “Anarkia”, low-sulphur, 'natural' Tannat, or, if you're after a classic 'Barolo' look-a-like, then the same producer's, tiny production “Notos” Nebbiolo is stunning. Both are exciting wines at under £15 a bottle.
But what if Columbus hadn't found the Americas? Would California's Napa Valley be producing world-beating Cabernet Sauvignon? No £3000 a bottle “Screaming Eagle”? What if? Thankfully, as long as you have very deep pockets, there's much to be said for the quality of USA wines; Washington has mastered Merlot and Syrah, Oregon has complex Pinot Noir, New York has elegant Riesling, California has (in Connolly's), Shafer's TD-9 red, Turley's spectacular Zinfandel (no sweet 'Blush' wines here!) and Newton's brilliant “Unfiltered” Chardonnay but, at the cheap end of the market, there are still millions of cases of very ordinary plonk. You know the names to avoid!
If money is no object, the good wines are pricey, but definitely worth it for the quality and enjoyment “wow factor”.
Heading off in a different direction, 150 years after Columbus, the Dutch, with Abel Tasman, had a go at looking for lands in the “New World”. He did actually discover New Zealand, but the credit for doing so ended up going to Britain's Captain James Cook who, in 1769/70 also claimed Australia. Strike 2, to the British! It took nearly another 100 years for serious vineyards to be established in Australia by the likes of Dr Christopher Penfold in the Barossa Valley, Thomas Hardy in the McLaren Vale and Dr Henry Lindeman in the Hunter Valley. Most of these early, pioneer vineyards used Shiraz and Grenache and some of the vines are still producing crops to this day. Today, many wines using these producers' names are now either collector's items sold at astronomically high prices, or, unfortunately, reduced to “commodity” brands of inferior quality in supermarkets. There are also many modern “cult” classics with limited availability and high prices (£100+), but many top quality wines from the likes of Jamsheed (Yarra Valley), Vasse Felix (Margaret River) and Majella (Coonawarra) give a really high hit rate at affordable prices. They really are all worth trying!
New Zealand's wine industry is relatively young; the early 1980's bringing the first releases of Sauvignon Blanc from Cloudy Bay and Montana/Brancott. Luckily for the UK's wine-lovers, New Zealand has resisted the temptation to sell just on volume/price and, with the exception of a few mass market brands, most of the wines exported are perfect for (almost) everyday drinking. And they aren't all made in Marlborough! Try Palliser Estate reds and whites from Martinborough on the North Island, delicious Syrah and Bordeaux-style blends (using Malbec) from Esk Valley in Hawkes Bay, or small production, “single vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc from Bellbird Spring in Canterbury, South Island.
The other major wine producing country that fits into the category of “New World” is South Africa.
Cape Town was originally a small trading outpost run by the Dutch East India Company and it's first Governor (in 1679) was Simon van der Stel who, from his arrival, established vineyards (Groot Constantia) and wine production as part of the goods to be traded. He named the town of Stellenbosch in the Cape wine-lands and was also responsible for bringing over the French Huguenot settlers to the area later known as Franschhoek. A hundred years after Van der Stel's arrival, the Dutch and the French were both fighting the British, who, in 1795, took control of Cape Town to keep the French out. Napoleon's favourite wine, Vin de Constance, was one of the first made in South Africa and a version of it is still available to this day. After another two centuries and much 'politics' later, the modern South Africa was born and their wines became freely available once again on the world markets with a consequential rise in both diversity of styles and a much needed improvement in quality. Today's Cape winemakers can claim to have some of the best quality/value wines anywhere on the planet. At Connolly's, as mentioned in an earlier blog, we like South African wines! Some of our exclusive listings include those of Arendsig, La Vierge, Louisvale, Overgaauw, Vrede en Lust, Longridge and, most recently, the 'natural' wines from Elemental Bob.
500 years of history and it's still called the “New World”, and the “Old World” set it all in motion. Here's to 2019 (or should that be “cheers”?) and the next 500 …