The typical new world
approach to wine has one major flaw, argues Jamie Goode: you
can't forget about the soil if you want to make truly great
The world's greatest wines are almost always the result of a
threefold synergy between grape variety (or indeed varieties), human
input (in terms of choices about viticulture and wine making) and the
terroir (here defined as the vineyard site, soil and microclimate).
You can get two of these right and still mess up on the third --
look for instance at how some producers blessed with prime grand cru
vineyard sites in Burgundy manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of
victory by still making mediocre wines.
I think the new world wine producing nations got it wrong. How?
Well, they forgot about the soil. The common emphasis in Australia,
California, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina has been to focus on just
the grape variety and the wine making. The result? They have made very
few world class wines. Of course, they've made a lot of very good
wines, but few that can really compete with the accepted old world
classics. There are very good new world examples of Pinot Noir and
Chardonnay, but how many of these show the same class, complexity and
balance of top examples from the Côte D'Or? The new world makes some
tasty, opulent Syrahs, but few have come close to the complexity and
poise of great Côte Rôtie. And have you ever tasted a new world
Nebbiolo that had even the slightest trace of the class of a great
Barolo or Barbaresco?
You can't forget about the soil; not if you want to make world
class wines. The Côte d'Or of France's Burgundy region shows quite
clearly the importance of this quality triangle (grapes plus
winemaking plus terroir). On the same hillside there are different
grades of vineyards, from grand cru, to premier cru, to village level,
to generic Bourgogne, depending upon the position on the slope and
underlying soil type. A great winemaker can make very good generic
Bourgogne that may well be better than a mediocre producer's premier
cru wine, but to make the finest wines, a great vineyard site (or ‘terroir’)
is needed along with skilful winemaking that allows the site-specific
characters to express themselves in the finished wine.
Take a look at the majority of new world wineries, and you'll find
that they make a full range of wines in many different styles. For
example, it's common to find an Australian winery making a Cabernet
Sauvignon, a Shiraz, a Semillon and a Chardonnay, plus one or two
other varietals, all from the same patch of land. Indeed, it's rare to
find a new world winery restricting their production to just one or
two varieties for which the vineyard site is best suited.
While this piece may be dismissed by some as another bit of
anti-new world rhetoric, I'd add that I'm actually quite a fan of new
world wines. I buy them and drink them regularly. And no, I don't
think that the only way for new world wine producers to make world
class wines is for them to emulate the old world classics -- I think
it's possible (even necessary) for Aussie wines to be made in a
uniquely Aussie style and still be truly great. But you'll probably
find that the select band of producers who are making the very best
new world wines are those who have remembered that in addition to the
grapes and winemaking, they need to pay attention to the soil.