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Variety is the Spice of Life

By: Dan Traucki

I live in the state of South Australia, which generates more than half of the Australian wine exports making it the Australian equivalent to California in US wine terms.

I know plenty of people here who only drink South Australian wine, which is sad considering that there are five other states in Australia, all with different climates producing wine, ranging from the cool climate of Tasmania through to the hot climate, with altitude of Queensland.

I also have a friends who only drink wine made from one variety, such as my buddy in the medical profession and his wife who only drink Shiraz (Syrah) and sure with just over 3,000 wineries in the country there is a wide range of Shiraz to choose from but, for me it is really sad, given that there are over a thousand grape varieties on the planet that can be made into wine.

I have taken the opposite view to my friends and colleagues described above; I try to taste every different wine possible, from wherever and made from whatever variety. I firmly believe that whoever said “variety is the spice of life” was absolutely spot-on when it comes to wine. Whenever possible I try wines from other Australian states, such as some of the thrilling Chardonnay’s and Pinot Noir’s from Tasmania, the Hunter wine-region Semillons (in New South Wales), the Rutherglen wine-region Durif (in Victoria), the Margaret River wine-region Chardonnay’s (in Western Australia) and so on.

Not being at all parochial I also try wines from all around the world when the opportunity presents itself. Wines such as:

  • Grace Kayagatake Blanc from Japan made from an indigenous variety called Koshu. Not only is this a very pleasant well balanced white wine, but the awesome part is that after vintage they have to bury the grape vines under soil to protect them from the winter snows and then uncover them again in time for spring budburst – what dedication.
  • Nytimber Classic Cuvee from England, a fabulous sparkling wine which in 2010 beat all comers including Champagnes in a sparkling wine competition in Italy.
  • Ridge Zinfandels from California – while I haven’t had the opportunity to try all 13 different versions that Paul Draper and his team make, the ones I have tried are excellent – “world-class” wines.
  • Chateau Musar from Lebanon where Serge Hogarth has spent a lifetime making a stunning “Bordeaux” style wine, often in the midst of war and chaos.
  • Giribaldi Cento Uve Lange DOC from Italy, a wine that is made from small parcels of 132 different grape varieties and has a fabulous and truly unique flavor.

So the question is – how adventurous are you? I understand that there are around 3,000 commercial vineyards in the United States, with wineries in almost all of the 50 states. I’m sure you have all tried wines from the “Big 3” California, Washington and Oregon, and possibly the Great Lakes region of New York as well, but have you tried wines from some of the other states producing wines?  How about wines from Arizona, Idaho, Colorado, Texas, Missouri, Virginia, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, North Carolina or even Minnesota?

While I haven’t had the opportunity to try wines from most of these states, I would jump at the chance to see what styles of wine they are producing and how they are progressing towards carving out their own niche in the wine world.

In researching for this article I found some interesting information about some of the lesser known US wine states. For example Arizona now has 46 wineries which seem to be creating some interesting and unusual blends such as the Pillsbury Wines Wild Child, a red wine which is a blend of 70 percent Merlot and 30 percent Zinfandel, a combination I have not encountered before. Likewise Callaghan Vineyards whose Ann’s Selection white wine is made from Grenache Blanc, Verdelho, Marsanne, Roussanne and Symphony (a cross between Muscat and Grenache Blanc) sounds really interesting doesn’t it?

In Virginia there are more than 230 wineries and around one quarter of all grapes grown are French Hybrids (crosses between Vitis vinifera and other grape varieties such as Vitis labrusca – designed to specifically overcome climatic challenges) such as Vidal, which is often used in making ice wine. When added to more conventional varieties these hybrids make the wines different and distinctive.

In the decade to 2006, Idaho has seen the number of wineries double to 50 and the acreage under vine more than double. The wines being made here are mainly from the better known grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot and Syrah.

Having shivered through a visit to a cousin of mine in Minnesota many years ago, I was amazed recently to find out that today there are some 45 wineries in that state and the numbers are growing. It must as cold and unlikely place to grow wine grapes as Japan.

The story is repeated across the USA with significant growth in just about all of the “non-traditional” winemaking states since the turn of the century, which makes life so much more interesting through choice than if one lived in, say, France. In France, in general terms, if you live in Bordeaux, you drink Bordeaux and if you live in Burgundy you drink Burgundy. The only real exception is if you live in Paris then you will probably drink both Bordeaux and Burgundy with maybe even the occasional Rhone wine. In the “New World” – Australia and the USA, as we are not bound by centuries of wine drinking tradition, can experiment to our heart’s content, with wines from across the country or across the world.

While I understand that there are some challenges in shipping wine across the USA, which we don’t have here in Australia, I would urge you to take every opportunity possible to try new wines from across your fabulous country as well as the rest of the wine world – especially the more interesting wines coming from Australia.

Variety is truly the spice of life, so here is to vinous diversity, always remember “nothing ventured- nothing gained” – Cheers/ Chin Chin/ Saludos/ Skoll.

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    Dan Traucki

    Dan Traucki
    Wine Assist P/L Wine Industry Consultants South Australia Dan Traucki JP, Wine Industry Consultant, and Director of Wine Assist Pty Ltd, has nearly 26 years experience in the wine industry. He regularly writes articles for wine industry magazines, such as Wine Business Magazine and occasionally for Australian Grapegrower & Winemaker Magazine. Read More About Dan