Brave new world

Getting to the core of a wine schism.

I stand accused of being a New World oenophile. Translated from winespeak, that means I primarily write about and drink wines from the younger, less established wine regions around the globe — U.S., Australia, South America and South Africa. It is, of course, highhanded Old World enthusiasts who denigrate my choices. Intrigued as to why, I rummaged the inebriated corners of my brain to figure out my New World leanings. My defense follows:

In general, women have more tastebuds than men. I am female; therefore, softer, fruitier wines taste better than ones with sandpaper tannins rolling across the tongue bumps. I am also American, reared on Coke and Pop Tarts (when the folks relented) and New World wines ride a sweeter edge. And they taste good, even alone. For whatever reason, many Americans — not the collectors, the tragic, score-seeking wine snobs, and industry folks — savor their wine as beverages, not like a side item with a meal. New World flavors stand on their own merit, whereas European wines have a venerated history of producing more acidic, food-friendly juice. Many don't stand as well on their own. Sure, plenty of Americans have a proclivity for food and wine pairing, but they also want something easy to drink. It can be painful to consume a young, abrasive Italian red or a tannic Spanish Rioja released too early.

That said, I'm not an iconoclast; Old World wines are consumed in my household. I fell in love with wine while living in Europe, knocking on Domaine doors in Burgundy, sipping German rieslings in cafés and road-tripping to Italy to slurp tasty, inexpensive grogs. I simply write with the reader in mind and don't think the time-crunched American public wants to interpret info-laden, unpronounceable labels in order to choose their drink of the moment.

Call them simple or intimidated, but it's the truth. Aware of our growing thirst and cash, savvy European wineries have shifted to selling by grape variety rather than using an arcane labeling system (think Fat Bastard). Others have made vinification changes — some subtle, some pretty drastic — crafting a more approachable, drink-it-right-now wine, not something friendly after aging 10 years.

Now let's talk price. It's easy to blame the current exchange rate, but France's well-known regions haven't exactly been a bastion of value, ever. With a rich history and a resilient demand, they don't have to. When I find affordable French wines (under $20), I pounce on them like a fiver on the sidewalk. But that doesn't happen often. Hell, I'd love to drink Drouhin Chablis everyday, but at $25 a pop, that's not gonna happen. If a wine geek like me doesn't do that, I assume the average American consumer won't either. And if the Germans think an ordinary Joe will pluck one of their $25 Gothic-labeled goodies randomly off a shelf, they're smoking crack.

So that leaves the New World. Argentinean malbecs, Chilean chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons, Australian shiraz (among others), South African sauvignon blancs and Americans that make everything under the sun. Without draconian laws limiting creativity, New World winemakers can stretch their wings and experiment, creating an entertainingly wide variety. Perhaps that appeals to the New World loyalist in me.

Sweet (SW), Hypersensitive (HS), Sensitive (S) and Tolerant (T). Find out your tasting profile at budometer.com.

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