Old World meets the New
It is so easy to divide all wines into the broad categories "Old World" and "New World" that we sometimes tend to overlook the delicious exceptions.
To review briefly, this casual definition assumes that "Old World" wines are subtle and elegant, somehow reflecting the soil in which they are grown, in the manner of the classic wines of Europe; while the "New World" style, reaching its zenith in the U.S. and Australia, is focused on fruit and plenty of it, with oak rather than earth as the spice of choice.
It's useful terminology in many cases, and it's flexible enough to accommodate European wines made in the New World style as "international," a term that rarely seems complimentary.
But occasionally "international" goes in the other direction, with the occasional wine made in the New World but with a distinct bow toward the European heritage that has shaped the fruit of the vine.
So it is with today's tastings: A very fine red wine made in Australia by a French producer, and one of my favorite California wines in the Italian style.
The Australian wine, M. Chapoutier Australia 1999 Mount Benson Shiraz, is the result of Chapoutier's first overseas venture, "Tournon Estate," in the cool Mount Benson region of South Australia's Limestone Coast, midway between Adelaide and Melbourne. It is a big and impressive Shiraz, yet it shows remarkably "Old World" qualities of raw meat and smoke that give it much of the character of a Northern Rhone Syrah. It would be intriguing to put it into a blind tasting of Cote-Roties.
The American wine, Ferrari-Carano 2000 Siena Sonoma County Red Wine, is one of my favorite "Cal-Italian" wines, a bottling that I pick up every year upon the new vintage in spite of an upper-$20s price tag that puts it a bit above my usual budget for everyday enjoyment. A blend of Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon and a touch of Merlot, it's an exceptionally good example of the spirit that inspired Italy's popular "Super Tuscans," but it also shows a distinct California personality that makes it more than a mere carbon copy of an Italian style.
Both are highly recommended, in their own right and as useful examples of the limits of stereotyping when it comes to wine or anything else.
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Ferrari-Carano 2000 Siena Sonoma County Red Wine ($27.99)
This clear, garnet-color wine shows the purple-to-bluish edge that's typical of a still-young red, and there's plenty of youthful fruit in its luscious, spicy cherry-berry aroma. There's nothing immature about its flavor, though, bright and tart black-cherries wrapped up in palate-cleansing acidity and perceptible but soft and palatable tannins. One of the most persuasive "Italian-style" wines from California. (Dec. 15, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: An excellent choice with the simple flavors of a roast free-range chicken.
VALUE: Not an inexpensive wine, but competes well with pricey "Super Tuscans" that command much more. It may pay to shop around, however, as many Web vendors offer this wine for significantly less than the price I paid at retail in Louisville.
WHEN TO DRINK: So delicious now that it's hard to resist, but its structure, balance and tannins suggest that it will improve under proper cellaring for at least five years.
WEB LINK: There's a Siena fact sheet on the winery Website:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Find vendors and compare prices on Wine-Searcher.com:
M. Chapoutier Australia 1999 Mount Benson Shiraz ($14)
This very dark ruby-color wine reveals reddish-vermilion glints against the light. Its aromas are on the "earthy" side, focused on an odd but appealing "raw meat" character - more typical of Northern Rhone Syrah than Australian Shiraz - and smoky "gunpowder" notes over earthy black fruit. Full and ripe flavors follow the nose - plums, black cherries, beef and smoke - juicy fruit and firm structural acidity. Very "French" in style, adding a distinct Gallic accent to a big and appetizing Australian red. U.S. importer: Paterno Imports, Lake Bluff, Ill. (Dec. 16, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: It would be a natural with grilled rare beef, but its ripe fruit and smoky complexity married it nicely with a less conventional match, spaghetti alla carbonara made with American bacon.
VALUE: An incredible value at this price, which may have been a fire-sale special; it's difficult to find on the 'net, but random sightings show it with a much higher price tag.
WHEN TO DRINK: Ready to drink, but if it's a match for its Northern Rhone peers, there's no reason to think it won't mature for a decade or more in a good cellar.
WEB LINK: You'll find a page about Chapoutier's Mount Benson property on the winery Website. Click to
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: As noted, this wine appears difficult to find. A few vendors, mostly outside the U.S., turn up on Wine-Searcher.com:
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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2003