Wine Blogging Wednesday 55: North vs South – a bipolar roundup

It’s always fascinating to see the many ways people can interpret a proposition. So what did the participants in the 55th Wine Blogging Wednesday make of this idea of confronting North vs South?

From Michigan Riesling to Tasmania Pinot Noir, from Spanish Garnacha to Tennessee Chambourcin, there sure were a lot of possible pairings (and threesomes, and foursomes) put together by the 33 participants who took up the challenge. Three of those, I’m happy to say, were first timers in the world of Wine Blogging Wednesday (this one, this one and this one), showing how the concept is still going strong and breaking new ground.

A few stats

Two thirds of the WBW 55 bloggers placed their line of comparison over the equator, while the others kept distances closer or… cheated somewhat.

Twenty-two of the comparisons were between red wines, nine between white wines, two between dessert wines, one between sakes (!) and one between… no wines at all, even though that post was right on the money, theme-wise. I know that adds up to 34, but that is because one of the bloggers did both white and red. 

In total, fourteen different grape varieties were tasted (fifteen, if you add the rice from the sake). As for the most popular varieties, six of the tastings involved syrah/shiraz, while five went for merlot, and three each for cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.

So what is North? And what is South?

Throughout the tastings, the question kept popping up about whether the warmer climate would match with the more southerly location.

Simple answer? Not one bit.

OK, sometimes it did. Not surprisingly, Rob Bralow’s Michigan Riesling was crisper than the highly aromatic, richer Aussie Riesling. The higher acidity of the Loire cabernet franc picked at the Cab Franco Files confirmed it as the northern wine to the Mendocino wine it faced off with. And the Okanagan merlot picked by Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson certainly didn’t go to the jammy lengths that its Australian companion did. 

Without counting the fact that in the Southern hemisphere, North is where the “South” is,  the tasting notes reveal that the heat vs geography equation is much more complicated than just pointing a compass.

Chile, depending on the grape and on the Northern vineyard it was being compared to, played both North and South to the other wines. Sometimes it felt warmer, sometimes cooler. In California pinot noirs, the Anderson Valley pinot used for my trial run felt more southerly than its southern counterpart, and the same thing happened with Robbin Gheesling’s fog-cooled Carneros pinot, compared with the warmer-feeling Russian River, from further up North. BrixChick Liza’s chardonnays also were somewhat contrarian, with the Sonoma playing North to its South African counterpart, even though a quick look at a map will show you that The Cape is much closer to the pole than Sonoma. (And then again, the South African shiraz picked for the Wine Peeps tasting was the “northern” wine, compared to their Australian and Californian counterparts.)

There paradoxes involved, even, the most telling of which was probably Good Grape’s ice wine, that most northerly of winemaking techniques, which resulted in highly concentrated tropical fruit flavors.

I have to say that in several cases, I wish that people would have pushed the argument further, in this North vs South comparison, to go beyond just two parallel tasting notes, into the characteristics that define a “southern” wine from a “northern” wine. Still, the whole set of tastings provides an interesting range of examples of contrasting climates and their effects on grapes and wines. Something which brings us straight back to the question of terroir, since the wines involved, always from the same variety, often showed tremendous differences in taste and feel.

So in the end, in the context of this Wine Blogging Wednesday, North and South appeared more as a concept we apply to the wines we taste than as a strictly geographical concept. The real question is climate, rather than strict geography. 

 

The tastings

Here is a full list of the individual posts that were all part of this North vs South confrontation, separated in three categories (Two Hemispheres, Single Hemisphere, and Uncharted), and organized from whites to reds to dessert wines.

This is a tremendous amount of work. All together, these posts amount to a small book. A wealth of information for everyone. Thanks to all the bloggers who participated. It was a great pleasure to bring this passionate, opinionated crowd together through Wine Blogging Wednesday.

Two Hemispheres

  • Andrew Barrow at Spittoon.biz went with chenin blanc, in its home vineyards of the Loire and in its South African adoptive home, the latter going tropical, while the Vouvray showed a more mineral side of this versatile grape.  
  • Rob Bralow, at the Wine Post, liked the Château Grand Traverse Riesling 2007, out of Michigan, on its own, but quite liked the Thorn Clarke Terra Barossa Eden Valley Single Vineyard Riesling 2008 with spicy chinese food. 
  • First timer Neil Maiers, at Wine Expedition, went for sauvignon blanc, comparing Napa with Chile, and finding, in this case, that the lighter, more mineral one (Source, from Napa), was better with food.
  • Debbie Lessner-Gioquindo, aka the Hudson Valley Wine Goddess, went for chardonnay, with one wine from the Finger Lakes, one from the Hudson Valley (Rhinecliff, which I’ve actually tasted before), and one from South Africa. 
  • Both BrixChicks went to work for WBW 55, with Liza focusing on unoaked chardonnay from Sonoma (Windsor Oaks) and Australia (West Cape Howe). “Russian River in the house!”, she exclaimed, showing her preference for the northern candidate.
  • What does a Wannabe Wino want with wines from North and South? Viognier, that’s what. Two rather hot-tempered versions, with a rare viognier from Chile (Secreto) and a Twisted one from Calaveras County. 
  • Tim, from Cheap Wine Ratings, also went with sauvignon blanc from California and Chile, with the Hess hailing from Lake County and facing off against the Chilean Errazuriz. But he didn’t stop there, and actually compared four merlots from Cali and Chile. In this case, Chile showed up jammier.
  • Although Tasmania is one of the coolest wine region in Australia, John, at Anything Wine, found its pinot noir to be darker and more powerful than the bottle he also picked up from Washington State. 
  • Gwendolyn, the Wine Predator (don’t worry, she doesn’t bite), was the first to submit a post about syrah and shiraz, this WBW’s most popular grape.She also provided a food match with lamb.  
  • Matt is always looking to have A good time with wine, and his syrahs from Washington and Chile seemed to provide plenty for both him and his wine – there’s even a video about the whole thing.
  • The Wine Peeps don’t do things halfway. They even do twice as much as everybody else, tasting four syrahs/shiraz from California, Washington, Australia and South Africa, with the rich syrah from Santa Barbara coming out on top for them. 
  • BrixChick Xandria was the only one in the trans-hemisphere group to pick a syrah from its home country, the Rhône. She matched up a Crozes-Hermitage with a Chilean syrah from the hot Cachapoal region.
  • Dave Honig, at 2 Days per bottle, took a moment to decide whether or not he would join in with WBW 55, and finally compared grenaches from Spain and Australia, with the Spanish one, priced under 10$, beating the 25$ Aussie wine.
  • Also on the Grenache front was the Winebard, a newcomer to blogging and a first timer for WBW, who similarly went for Spain and Australia, the Aussie showing as more fruit-forward. Keep going, Winebard!
  • Ben MacPhee Sigurdson, wine columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press, posted a video entry, where he compared an older Okanagan merlot with a younger Australian wine. 
  • On the Drink What You Like blog, you’ll find a very natural comparison: Malbec from its home turf in Cahors, and from its successful adoptive home in Argentina. Argentina showed as too sweet to our blogger – although his coworkers liked it better than the tightly wound Cahors.
  • Robert Dwyer, at Wellesley Wine Press, blind tasted a cabernet sauvignon from Chile and a cabernet sauvignon from Napa, having no problem recognizing the latter, and liking it better overall. 
  • Victoria at Read Me, Drink Me, for her very first Wine Blogging Wednesday, went with two cabs: Souverain, from Napa, and Wolf Blass Gray Label from the Coonawarra, in Australia. And surprise, surprise, the fruit bomb was, she says, the Napa Cab, rather than the Australian.
  • More cabernet sauvignon came from the Wine Brat at the Luscious Lushes – four bottles, actually, from Washington, Napa, and two different parts of Chile. Great tasting notes for each wine.
  • Hosting a whole Wine Blogging Wednesday dedicated to dessert wines, Joe Roberts, the 1 Wine Dude, still had his sweet tooth out, comparing an ice wine from the Niagara with a late harvest from Chile, both from the wonderful riesling grape, one of the very best varieties for dessert wines.

 

Single Hemisphere

  • A Flowery Song is the name for Paul Arthur’s blog, and the place where he posted about our second Michigan wine, a sauvignon blanc, with its counterpart from Rutherford, in Napa, even using comparative charts to do his full analysis.
  • Mike is a guy from Wicker Park, in Chicago, and being a neighborhood kind of guy (his blog is the Wicker Parker), he pulled chardonnay from two nearby regions of Burgundy, Chablis and Saint-Aubin, with the Saint-Aubin showing a more southerly character, in line with geography.
  • Carneros is south of Sonoma, points out Robbin, on her Vineyard Adventures blog, yet it’s the pinot noir from the Russian River, in Sonoma, that feels warmer and riper. Fog has more weight than latitude, in that part of the world.
  • The Cabfrancophile at The Cab Franco files went, you guessed it, with cab franc, finding a little too much acidity in the Touraine wine, and too little acidity in the Mendocino cab franc. We hope he finds one that is just right. 
  • Like the Cab Franco Files, Remy at The Wine Case (that’s me) went for cab franc, but only a few miles apart, in the Touraine region, actually finding a bit more heat on the southern end of this 10-mile drive. 
  • At Good Wine Under 20$, Dr Debs found two solid Quality Price Ratios from Washington State and the Napa Valley, with the Washington merlot showing more “hot” chocolate flavors and the Napa merlot showing more “cool” herbal notes. In both cases, she said, the wines were worth checking out “to convince any Merlot skeptic still having horrible flashbacks from the 90s that the grape is worth a second try”.
  • To find a different place for Syrah, the “Dr Strangelove of Wine” at Under the Grape Tree went to Sicily. Comparing the Planeta syrah with a Saint-Joseph from Domaine Faury,  the Sicilian wine was found to be somewhat closer to California than to France.
  • A special tip of the hat has to be given to Michelle Lentz, at My Wine Education, for thinking way outside the cabchard box and reviewing two Chambourcins, an interesting French hybrid grape. The comparison went a little unexpected, though, since a second look at the label revealed that the Tennessee wine was actually a dessert wine, which made it tough to compare to its dry, Niagara counterpart.
  • Our other blogger with a (voluntary) sweet tooth was Jeff Lefevere, from Good Grape, who compared a vidal ice wine from the Niagara with an interesting late harvest blend (70% Chardonnay, 20% Gewürztraminer, and 10% Riesling) from Long Island. 

Uncharted

Beyond the hemispheres, here are a few entries that stepped out of the ballpark somewhat, in their own opinionated, interesting ways.

  • You won’t be surprised that Catie, the Walla Walla Wine Woman, was extremely favorable to her home vines, giving high praise to the 2003  Forgeron Merlot. So much so, in fact, that she didn’t quite get to that bottle from California…
  • Jill, from Domaine 547, admitted to cheating a bit on her WBW entry, which is why I’m letting her hang out with the other “cheaters”. Comparing Northern Rhône with Southern Rhône, she matched a Côte-Rôtie (100% syrah) with a 70% grenache Côtes-du-Rhône. Tsk, tsk, tsk. 
  • David McDuff, who hosted the 54th Wine Blogging Wednesday, actually didn’t taste a wine for his Wine Blogging Wednesday 55 post. Instead, using his experience about Piedmont, he explains how a vineyard’s exposure to the North or to the South influences the capacity to fully ripen the region’s signature grape, nebbiolo, and give the full, complex flavor profile fans of the Piedmont seek with true passion.
  • Richard, the Passionate Foodie, is mentioned here last, but certainly not least, as he demonstrates the superiority of northern daiginjo sake, thanks to a cooler growing and brewing season. Reading his tasting notes on sake makes me want to discover more about this underrated drink – underrated in North America, I mean.

Thanks again to everyone for these great worldwide travels. We’ll see you next month with an Easter-ly theme: Kosher wines, according to the sneak preview Lenn Thompson, founder of the WBW, gave on Twitter a few days ago.

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8 Comments

  1. Posted March 25, 2009 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Great job, Remy. I well know, after hosting last month, what an undertaking it is to put together a summary as complete as yours. Thanks again for hosting.

  2. winecase
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I appreciate the comment, David. You’d set the bar pretty high with WBW 54.

    It’s one of those tasks that you start on thinking it will be done relatively quickly, and hen it seems to grow and grow. Quite worth it, though.

  3. Posted March 25, 2009 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    An amazing collection of wines and tasters–and quite a summary! Congrats, Remy!

  4. Posted March 25, 2009 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    I’m finally in, Remy. Thanks for not waiting for me ;-)

    http://winecast.net/2009/03/25/wbw-55-north-vs-south/

  5. Posted March 25, 2009 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Ummm, Remy? West Cape Howe is from the Great Southern region of Western AUSTRALIA not South Africa. Thanks for all the work! Nice round up!

  6. winecase
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    But I did wait for you. Finished rounding up on Tuesday evening, and checked out if you’d posted before finishing… I’d lost all hope. ;-)

    Great post, though. Indeed, sauvignon blanc does sound great with spring food.

  7. winecase
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Woops. The Cape had me confused. Too much information at once, I guess.

    Made the change. Sorry. ;-(

  8. Posted March 26, 2009 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Remy, you did a great job on the bi-polar round-up!

3 Trackbacks

  1. By WBW #55 Round-Up Report by Remy « Wine Predator on March 25, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    [...] Wine Blogging Wednesday 55: North vs South – a bipolar roundup [...]

  2. [...] participated and took some interesting perspectives on North vs. South.  Head on over and see all the details.  Stay tuned for next month’s theme…I hear it involves Kosher [...]

  3. [...] on a request from WBW founder Lenn Thompson. As a relatively regular participant in WBW, and even host of a pretty successful edition, I’m happy to jump back in and rejoin this custom that was, for a while, honored more in the [...]

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