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New World Wanderings

Catena Zapata

We don’t spend a huge amount of time in the New World; we have a tendency to gravitate towards France, Spain and Italy because most of what we know and like comes from there. But we would be doing ourselves and the wine world a disservice if we didn’t occasionally look outside of Europe.

Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand and the USA all make some great wines but the trouble we face is finding value and age in some of these regions. Quality Argentinian wines have a tendency to be sold young yet need age to be fully appreciated. New Zealand can be overly saturated with Sauvignon Blanc. And prices for the top producers in the US are ludicrous and with so many of their wines sold domestically the middle ground doesn’t always make it over to the UK market.

Not ones to be defeated though we have put together a selection of wines from New World regions that we think are apt for showcasing the best of what they have to offer without breaking the bank.

Argentina produces a lot of wine most of which is produced fairly cheaply from vineyards with high yield levels. The growing conditions are so favourable in certain areas that the temptation to produce in high volumes is too strong for some. However, there are those that have seen the value in the land and the long term gains to be had. They have been producing high quality wines using modern and thoughtful wine making techniques whilst keeping the yields from their vines low. The wines they produce are much more concentrated but also complex. Mendoza and the surrounding area is where most of the top producers are located.

Catena Zapata was founded in Mendoza in the early 1900’s and has several vineyards dotted around the area. They have a strong reputation for quality and consistency across their range and focus on Malbec as well as classic French grape varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
2007 Catena Zapata Nicolas Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec Mendoza £110 per bottle
As one might expect from this part of the world, these wines are big and need plenty of age. At 13 years old the tannins should have softened in this blend and the fruit should be melding nicely with the many layers of Mendoza complexity.

Achaval Ferrer is a more recent addition to the Mendoza scene. The vineyard was set up in 1998 and has been rising to the top ever since. Like Catena, Achaval has seen the value in low yields but has also gone a step further in trying to showcase the best of the grapes and their terroir by using low intervention techniques. They use some Cabernet Sauvignon but the main focus is Malbec making these wines big, fruity and fairly up front. There is a subtlety to these wines though; a complexity of flavour that makes them stand out from the many averagely produced Malbecs.

They make three single vineyard wines: Altamira, Bella Vista and Mirador.
2008 Achaval Ferrer Finca Altamira Malbec La Consulta £125 per magnum
2011 Achaval Ferrer Finca Bella Vista Malbec Mendoza £78 per bottle
2009 Achaval Ferrer Finca Mirador Malbec Mendoza £170 per magnum

Australian wines aren’t hard to come by but sorting the wheat from the chaff can be hard. A lot of it will depend on the style of wine you like; we prefer old world, French style subtlety to our wines which is not always easy to find in Australia. Saying this, they have some good producers who have spent time and energy attempting to move closer towards the cooler climate style of wine rather than the overbaked style that can be common in these parts. What we also struggle with is that Australian wines are not always designed for age past the 10-15 year mark. The bold nature of them when they’re young can lead to the fruit dying out quicker than in many parts of France. Those producers at the top have achieved longevity but it is worth treading carefully.

Clarendon Hills is a producer that can certainly claim to have followed the French in style. Established in 1990 by Ukranian Roman Bratasiuk, his love of all things French when it concerns wine is well known in the industry and comes through in a number of his wines. The single estate Syrah Astralis in Maclaren Vale is labelled as ‘Premier Grand Cru’ and has been compared to Côte Rôtie. It has all the nuances of this style of wine with plenty of spice, black pepper and violets but you can’t escape its Australian setting with big, bold fruit and a slightly baked undertone.
2005 Clarendon Hills Astralis Shiraz McLaren Vale £200 per bottle

If we head over to Western Australia we find two producers who are consistently rated at the top: Cullen Wines and Moss Wood, both in Margaret River.

2014 Cullen Wines Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot Margaret River £87 per bottle
A Bordeaux style blend that is uniquely Australian in its finish. This is one designed for age and is only just beginning to open up so it may be worth keeping hold of for a few years. Full of fruit but with plenty of balance.
2012 Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River £62 per bottle
Quite a classic Australian Cabernet but one with elegance and subtlety. It is one to be approached younger than some and should be drinking well now.

Chile has been well established as a serious wine making country for some time now with both red and white varieties found at the top. The whites are of high quality but definitely lend themselves to being drunk young whereas some of the top reds are worth keeping for several years. Unsurprisingly, classic French grape varieties reign supreme among the top producers but they have done well to create wines that are recognisable as being Chilean.

Errázuriz is a prolific producer but also one respected for quality. They own vast swathes of vineyards across the main wine regions of Chile and produce everything from the top to the bottom end of the scale.
2007 Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founders Reserve Aconcagua Valley £73 per bottle
A wine that helped establish them on the world market, the Founders Reserve is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc as well as Petit Verdot and Syrah. Aged in new French oak it is fairly bold whilst also being elegant. Well balanced and in the middle of its drinking window.

New Zealand
New Zealand has all the benefits of a cold climate but a lot of their wines have a tendency to taste mass produced. If you are looking for a classic New Zealand Sauvignon you can find great value in many of the big merchants. But if you want red wines that are made to suit the unique terroir they have in parts of the country you need to spend a bit more time looking and a little more money.
Pinot Noir is definitely the red wine to go for in New Zealand but it shouldn’t be approached with Burgundy in mind. Some were quick to claim that Burgundy was finally going to meet its match but let’s not insult both Burgundy and New Zealand with statements of this kind. Pinot Noir from this part of the world carries its own style and flavours that can be just as ingratiating but in a very different way.

2011 Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir Central Otago £92 per bottle
One of the best Pinot Noir producers in New Zealand and from the ever celebrated Central Otago area. Lots of juicy fruit but with subtle herbal notes. Not one to keep for too long it would be worth drinking up quickly.

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel offer the best value from the US. Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah have a strong reputation from these parts but they tend to come with a fairly major price tag.

Ridge Vineyards in California have a fairly extensive range that includes a famous Cabernet field blend, Monte Bello. But they also have a strong reputation for their Zinfandel blends which are highly regarded and very popular in the US. They occasionally make their way over here and when they do they’re worth trying.

2011 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville Zinfandel Blend £52 per bottle
Light and fruity with notes of cherry the Zinfandels benefit from a few years of age although best not to go over the 15 year mark.

We appreciate that we have barely touched upon the many wonders of the New World and haven’t even mentioned South Africa. There is a lot to explore but also a lot to avoid and we have spent so much time working our way through the pitfalls of Europe that we are still relative newcomers to these parts.

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