EDITOR’S NOTE—Other voices, other vines

My friend George lived in Paris for years. He speaks impeccable French, both in legalese and in wine. When he drives to visit me in the Berkshires for dinner, I look for something old and Bordeaux in my basement, or something Rhône, which is mainly what he’s stocked in his own cellar. Recently, we were headed to The Dream Away Lodge, the roadhouse on October Mountain where Amy Loveless had come on as chef (she’s a local legend for Suchèle, the bakery she once ran in Lenox). I found a bottle of 1986 Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz and stood it up, wondering if it had survived.
     I’d just returned from Victoria, the chaperone for our five Best New Sommeliers (W&S 10/09), none of whom had been Down Under before—and all of whom were blown away by the older wines we tasted. I wondered how likely it was that I could recreate that sense of astonishment with an older bottle of shiraz here in the States.
     The first thing George noticed was that the wine wasn’t sweet. I checked the label: 12.5 percent alcohol. He liked the spice, and the silkiness of it. This was not a fruity shiraz, but the longer we sat with it, the more fresh fruit came up in the middle of the wine. Chef Amy came out of the kitchen to say hello and I offered her a glass; the spice was the first thing she noticed as well. She saved her glass and later came out to sit with us and finish it off.
     I wouldn’t say that was a wow moment for either George or Amy, the kind of transformational taste some of the sommeliers described in the wines they found in Oz. But it was memorable, not only because the wine was old and still fresh, but because it had something to say.
     In Australia, we found remarkable older wines, each speaking a different Australian dialect, all through the eight days we spent checking out the great vineyards of South Australia and Victoria. A full report, focused on the sommeliers’ take on those wines, appears on page 34.
     The balance of this issue is dedicated to your summer drinking, focused on what’s great and affordable. Our Top 100 Values, all $15 or less, our Value Brands of the Year and our Critics’ Picks for Summer will give you plenty of ideas for stocking up. The trade is awash in wine at the moment, and if you’re in the position to take some of it off their hands, you can find some amazing buys.
     We’ve also taken a moment to reflect on Chile. Patricio Tapia, our critic from Santiago, was in New York City tasting for this issue when the earthquake hit southern Chile in February. Fortunately, his family was safe, but the Santiago airport was closed, and it was three days of Skype before he could get a flight back to join them. Patricio writes about his own wine, an old-vine Cauquenes carignan, for this issue. And I asked Eduardo Brethauer, wine editor at Vitis magazine in Santiago, to report on the impact of the earthquake on the 2010 harvest in Chile, a short crop with low yields due to major spring frosts. Despite the devastating quake, it looks like a very good year. It’s certainly a good year to support friends in Chile, whether by donating to earthquake relief efforts or buying a good bottle of their sauvignon blanc.