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Duo of New World reds offer comfort in the cold
2016-02-25
By John H. Isacs

AS we transition from winter chills to spring warmth, our fair city still has a number of frigid nights perfect for savoring winter-friendly red wines. What makes a red wine winter friendly? An abundance of concentrated palate pleasing black and red fruit flavors is a good start, but the best winter reds also offer plenty of smooth tannins that pair beautifully with weighty winter dishes like stews and roasts.

Whether you’re enjoying a fine restaurant meal or dining at home, the right bottle of red wine helps make frigid Shanghai nights eminently more endurable. Two not-to-miss southern hemisphere red wine styles to enjoy before the spring thaw are Central Otago Pinots from New Zealand and Malbecs from Mendoza, Argentina. Both red wines offer an abundance of dark fruit flavors and gentle tannins that pair well with heavy winter fare.

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While Burgundy is still the unquestioned top realm of Pinot Noir, a growing number of precocious New World producers are uncovering the secrets of making excellent Pinots. Fans of Pacific Northwest Pinot Noirs may beg to differ, but a strong case can be made that the most compelling New World Pinot Noirs are coming from New Zealand in general, and Central Otago in particular.

Pinot Noir is now New Zealand’s second most planted variety after the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc grape that brought Kiwi winemaking to global prominence. Except for northern regions on the North Island, Pinot Noir is an important grape in all of New Zealand’s leading wine regions. In Central Otago, the combination of ample sun, dry and cool climates with extreme day and night temperature differentials results in extended growing seasons that are ideal for cultivating Pinot Noir.

The Marlborough region is bigger and more famous and certainly has its fair share of fine Pintos, but I prefer those from Central Otago. This is one of the world’s most southern winemaking regions with a wild and breathtakingly beautiful environment. The natural beauty of the region has attracted the filmmakers of “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” movies, and more germane to this column a growing number of highly skilled New Zealand and international winemakers.

Top Central Otago Pinots offer exhilarating fragrances of dark fruit and spices and concentrated lush red and black fruit flavors. These substantial reds offer an intriguing combination of elegance and power and pair well with meaty delights ranging from winter stews, braised meats and roasts to spicy Hunan and Sichuan meat dishes. There exist a plethora of high quality Central Otago Pinots and some of my favorites are made by the producers Mount Difficulty, Tiki, Gibbston Valley and Tatty Bogler. All generously afford drinkers a quintessentially robust and sense stimulating Central Otago Pinot experience. Across the expansive South Pacific Ocean, there’s another generous red to warm your icy Shanghai evenings.

Over the past few decades, Malbec red wines from Argentina have become some of the world’s most affordable premium red wines. Wine lovers around the globe have fallen in love with the Malbec’s signature brooding dark red-black colors, rich fruity aromas and concentrated black fruit and chocolate flavors, often livened up with notes of spice. All these attractive qualities start with the grape.

Malbec is a grape that, depending who you talk to, originated in France or was brought to France by a Hungarian winemaker many centuries ago. Usually blended with other varieties to provide color and fruitiness, the grape thrived in Bordeaux and other regions of France until a severe frost in 1956 wiped out most the vines. French winemakers replanted with the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties that weren’t so susceptible to frost and other climatic extremes. Today in France, only the Calors wine region in southwest France still has extensive plantings of this grape. The new home of Malbec is Mendoza, an elevated plateau bordering the Andes Mountains. The elevation provides an ideal combination of abundant daytime sunshine to ripen the grapes and cool evenings that contribute greater complexity and elegance to the wines.

The generous fruitiness and soft tannins of most Malbec wines make them suitable for many winter meat dishes. In respect to the national obsession with beef in Argentina, I often suggest pairing Malbecs with beef dishes. In fact, almost any part of the cow, from tongue to tail, matches harmoniously with Malbecs from Mendoza. The hearty and somewhat spicy nature of these wines also makes them quite suitable for many spicy Chinese or Asian meat dishes that may overwhelm more delicate reds.

There are a growing number of fine Malbecs available in Shanghai. My favorites include the Malbec specialists Bodegas Sottano, Vistaba and Inca. All three produce Malbec wines ranging from pleasant inexpensive wines to super premium wines that are among Argentina’s best. Additional good Mendoza producers making fine Malbecs include Argento, Sottano, Perdriel and the Moet-Hennessy owned Terrazas.Drink any of these robust reds and the chills of a Shanghai evening will magically and deliciously dissipate.


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