Do you like ‘Old World’ or ‘New World’ wine? It seems that the distinction is commonly misunderstood with a lot of wine-lovers not really knowing the difference between the two styles, or what makes a wine truly part of its ‘World’. What do these terms really mean? How did they originate? Do they matter?
Let’s start at the beginning... The most basic difference between Old World and New World wines is geographic:
Old World refers to wines made in countries that are considered the birthplace of wine, Europe and the Middle East. These countries include among others France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Greece, Lebanon, Israel, Croatia, Georgia, Romania, Hungary and Switzerland. Its cultural roots go back to the Roman Empire where the first techniques to produce, store and distribute wine were developed. Since this time, Old World wine has evolved through generations of family winemaking. The techniques and practices used in each region have been enshrined in local wine laws (for example Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC)) and are based on that regions unique climates and landscapes.
The term ‘New World’ refers to countries colonised by Western Europe and other regions that are new to wine production. They include among others America, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, Australia and SOUTH AFRICA. Most of these regions started producing wine in the fifteenth, sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, adopted the successful ideas from the Old World and expanded on them. It must be noted that the Old World’s wine laws don’t apply to the New World and thus, with its very few existing restrictions, gives winemakers more freedom and choice in terms of what grape varieties they wish to plant and how they would like to make their wine.
What about different Wine Style?
The two most guiding influences of Old World style winemaking are that of Tradition and Terroir. The former refers to the long history of a wine region, while the latter refers to geography and the unique characteristics of a place (such as soil, climate and topography that are often out of the winemaker's control). In contrast, the New World philosophy generally places less sanctity on the pre-eminence of terroir, and more on the preservation of varietal fruit character. With the emphasis on science and the role of the winemaker, great successes are achieved via harnessing technology and implementing best practices in the vineyards - in order to iron out any ‘terroir imperfections’.
It must be taken into account that the dividing line between Old and New is becoming more blurred, as New World wine producers discover ‘terroir’ and the Old World adopting many of the technological advances developed in the New World – aka, discovering ‘fruit’. That said, no matter how much the two styles seem to converge Old World wines tend to retain a more obvious minerality or savouriness, no matter how ‘fruity’ they become.
With regards to quality, there is no reason why Old Word wines are better than New World wines or vice versa. What is true is that they are different. The smell, taste, and feel of a wine in your mouth are probably the most notable differences between the worlds. This is where you really see how climate, soil, viticulture and viniculture affect the resulting wine. With the focus on tradition, Old World wines tend to be more earthy or mineral. Due to a cooler climate these grapes don’t usually get as ripe and this results in wines that’s lighter-bodied with tart fruit and herb notes, higher acid, and lower alcohol. Common vernacular include: Subtle Fruit, Earthy, Mineral, Elegant, Herbaceous, and Tannic.
Without entrenched traditions, New World wines and winemakers seem to embody the entrepreneurial spirit associated with their forefathers’ travels and struggles. Winemaking practices in these regions vary dramatically, and there is much experimentation, seeking to push the boundaries of what is possible and more varietal driven. It’s all about the grapes. Generally the emphasis is on making wine that takes advantage of modern advances, technology and efficiency. There’s definitely no reason why New wines can’t be as good or even better than the Old. With these regions tending to be warmer, the grapes get riper and have more sugar to convert to alcohol. This results in a wine that is full-bodied, with ripe to overripe fruit notes, few to no earth or mineral notes and higher alcohol. Other words include: Fruit-forward, Oakey, Big, Lush, and Opulent.
Old vs. New - why does it matter?
We know now that there are differences between Old World and New World wines, but determining your preference is completely personal. You need to ask yourself whether or not you have an old world (good acid, rocks) or a new world palette (bolder fruit, softer acids, less earth)? You may prefer a heavier-bodied Chardonnay from the New World that (tastes like buttery, baked yellow apples and ripe pineapple), over a lighter-bodied Chardonnay from France (that tastes like tart green apples and minerals). In the end both styles have their own unique touch with wonderful things to offer. It just boils down to what you like. One isn't necessarily better than the other... we all have our favourites and yes, they can include BOTH worlds!