For the most part, the wine world is
conveniently carved into two parts: the Old World and the New World. Europe is
considered Old World while North and South America, Australia, Chile, Argentina
and South Africa fall under the New World moniker.
It’s not so much aged-based but more about the
philosophy of winemaking and the style of the wine. It doesn’t matter that the
Chileans planted grapes as early as the mid-1550s but only that their wines are
predominately varietal (named after a single grape variety) and that the
country’s prominence as an important world exporter is less than 30 years old.
On the other hand, France, Italy, Spain and
Germany, to name but a few Old World producers, have been growing grapes,
making wine and exporting it for centuries. In the Old World, much is made of
the wine’s origin.
Despite the fact many wines are made with
well-known grapes, the European tendency is to associate the wine with its
appellation or the place that it comes from rather than any single grape name.
Hence, varietal wine like chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot gives way
to names such as Bordeaux, Rioja, Burgundy, Barolo and many more.
Both consumers and retailers in the New World
have to work a bit harder to understand the wines of Europe, but the rewards
are many. Perhaps the single greatest difference is the structure and style of
European wine. Normally, higher acids and a leaner structure make it eminently
more drinkable with food, as does its lower alcohol rate.
So where do you begin to explore Europe?
White wines can be particularly rewarding when
they are food-friendly. Given the mix of seafood and Asian dishes available in
British Columbia, riesling (German or Austrian) is a great place to start. And,
as we’ve mentioned in previous columns, albariño (Spain), viognier (France) and
grüner veltliner (Austria) are also good starting points. Each has spicy Asian
food written all over the taste.
Northern Italian white wine or verdelho from
Spain’s Rueda region are equally charming and easy to appreciate with light
seafood dishes, grilled chicken and pastas. The bonus is few will break your
The red wines of Europe are plentiful and for
the bored-out-of-your-mind merlot or cabernet sauvignon drinker, they can be a