Wine column no. 14: Explore the New World

Australia, Chile, New Zealand and France: If there were a battle between the four, traditionalists would likely say that France produces the best wine of all. But here's a secret: We're not traditionalists.

Oh, sure. There was a time when the Old World seemed fulfilling. When we could get them, we paired our white Burgundies with our white fish and our red Bordeaux with our beef, and that was enough. We were doing what we were supposed to do, and we agreed that we should like it.

But then we got a taste of an Australian Shiraz, and suddenly the Old World seemed very small. So armed with a few gangly sails, Greg and I struck out on our own, hitting the high seas of wine exploration until we reached solid ground.

And what do you know? The New World of wine has a lot to offer -- like New Zealand, which produces a grassy, refreshing Sauvignon blanc. Then there's Chile, which makes a supple, fruit-forward Carmenere. And finally, one of Australia's strengths, in our experience, seems to be Shiraz, which teems with blackberries.

Slowly, we learned that thinking outside the box was a blessing, even when faced with the dismissive glances of those who were still attached to the Old World. And this line of thinking meant we no longer had to accept what others told us we should like, or what we should think is good, either. As revolutionaries, we started to wonder, and then to ask outright: Just who are these experts, anyway? And what we found is that, whoever "they" think they are, the only one that really matters is the person drinking from the glass.

Now before the purists get all high and mighty and insist that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, France still makes the best wine of all, let's be clear: We're not discounting French wines. Yes, there are a lot of extraordinary French wines out there, but not all French wines are good just because they are French. That's not just the talk of budding wine aficionados; that's just plain old common sense.

And I'll let you in on another secret: My mother is French. She grew up in a tiny seaside town in Brittany, a province just to the west of Normandy, on the English Channel. How she and my father, a Chicagoan, came to live in Evansville is a story for another time. But what's important here is that even my mother has a soft spot for Californian reds. She'll tell you that they are usually more robust in flavor than your typical French reds and more willing to express their innate personalities. But that's just her opinion, after decades of trying both French and New World wines. What's yours?

We ask that question because we think that's the most important one to ask. For example, we've got a good friend who typically prefers beer over wine. (OK, we actually have a lot of friends like that.) But the other night, we asked his opinion on a 2006 De Bortoli Vat 1 Petite Sirah we bought from Winetree for about $9.59. He thought this Australian was light, smooth, with a berry flavor, and he really liked it. Then we asked his opinion on a 2008 Apothic Red, which is a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and Merlot grapes from California. Greg bought this at Schnucks for about $10. Our friend wasn't a big fan of the Apothic, saying the flavors were too strong, and it had a heavier body. So while there's lots more to learn about his individual tastes, right away we got a better initial sense of what he likes in reds: Lighter-bodied, smooth textures that aren't overwhelmingly flavorful. It was a good thing to learn, especially if we're going to be serving wine when he comes over.

So as we continue to explore the New World of wine, here are some other wines we've had that we thought were pretty enjoyable, especially for the price. We've also tried to break down our reasons for liking them when they were paired with food, so that we could better understand our own tastes. This is because being a revolutionary means you're constantly asking questions, and you're not happy with the status quo. That's us, definitely.

Here are our recommendations:

A lighter white wine that pairs well with all this heat, and maybe a salad with goat cheese, is the 2010 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. This 13 percent alcohol bottle is definitely grassy, and it has some grapefruit, so Greg avoided it. About $10. The reason I suggest that it be paired with goat cheese is the acidic texture of the wine will counterbalance the flat flavor and creamy textures of the cheese.

We also like to contrast fruity wines with spicy meats because, in our experience, the smooth textures of the wine tend to counteract the heat and the fat in the sausage. A good pairing with spicy bratwurst would be the 2008 Terra Andina Reserva Carmenere, which tastes of red fruit and is soft, smooth and creamy. This 14 percent alcohol bottle is from the Valle del Rapel in Chile. Winetree. $12.99

Another good spicy bratwurst pairing would be the 2006 St. Hallett Barossa Faith Shiraz, which is also fruity, creamy and smooth. And at 14.5 percent alcohol, this Australian is definitely power in a glass. Winetree. About $12-$15.

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