Ahhhh yes! Old world vs. New World! What in the heck does that mean exactly? The first time I ever heard that mentioned several years ago I thought it meant old wines vs. new wines. Well if you’ve thought the same thing – you’re not COMPLETELY wrong exactly. It’s the wrong definition but it’s the right concept, sort of. I’ll explain why…
Old World wines are the wines that come from the regions of Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Cyprus, Switzerland, England, and Macedonia.
The reasons why these regions are referred to as producing “Old World” wines is simply because these areas have been producing wines for thousands of years. They are the founding fathers of wine production and it is their vines that were brought over to the US, Australia and other regions during the 16th century. They are the grandfathers of wine, and it is their methods of production that have been passed down for generations. There is even evidence that wine existed in these regions as long ago as 7000 BCE!
*Fun fact: Did you know that wine was so prevalent in the Roman Empire that even slaves were given daily wine rations? Having wine in a household was more commonplace than water or milk simply because wine was more sanitary and contained less bacteria.
New World wines are the wines that come from the regions of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, China, India, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada. These regions have only started producing wine as of the 16th century and some even more recent than that such as only the past 100 years.
The difference in style from Old World to New World
Ok now that we’ve established the geographic regions, let’s talk style.
There is a significant difference in style from Old World to New World that is very important. The styles of the two genres are important to note because it is the single most important reason why these two “worlds” have been separated in the first place. Otherwise we would simply refer to wines as their nationality such as French, Italian, American, etc.
Old World style:
Old World wines come from mostly European nations which means that overall, the grapes are grown in cooler climates. When grapes are grown in colder regions, this produces grapes that are not as ripe which in return makes a more earthy, subtle wine flavor with less alcohol and more minerality.
Also, old world wine regions are more about the terroir of a wine. Not the actual grape expression itself (which is why old world wines are not blatantly fruity.) This is also why you’ll notice that many old world wines are not labeled by the actual grape varietal but by the region (ie. “Chablis” = Chardonnay, “Burgundy” = Pinot Noir, “Chianti” = Sangiovese, etc.) The wine you’re purchasing is an expression of the personality of the terroir – not the grapes.
European wine laws are very strict in these regions, and they don’t leave a lot of room for creativity when producing wine. The laws that govern dictate that wines maintain the integrity of the terroir and stay traditional to what wines from that region are supposed to taste like. They also dictate what grapes are allowed to be grown in specific wine regions and what % can be used when blending. Not so much fun for the vintners but better for the rest of us because we know what we’re getting every time to a certain degree.
New World style:
And here we are at New World! If you’ve ever had an American wine from our beautiful and famous Napa and Sonoma Valleys then you are well acquaited with New World Wine. 🙂
Unlike Old World wine regions, American and Australian wines (like other New Worldies) are bold. Fruity. Packed with punch and flavor. This is because we do not have to follow the guidelines of any particular method or style. We are left to be creative and use whatever grapes we want, however we want.
Our wines are also higher in alcohol simply because we are a warm wine region. The warmer the region, the more ripe a grape gets which means more sugar content. More sugar means more alcohol and viola! You have higher alcohol wine!
Which is better?
Both and neither! It all depends on your personal preference. I like certain old world wines over new world (for example I prefer French Riesling and Chenin Blanc over American), but I adore Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. So I encourage everyone to drink up and experiment!
There are even some CA wineries that try to model themselves after old world wines and mimic their styles as much as possible (and vice versa – some Euro wineries are trying to create New World styles as well) .
If anyone reading this is a psycho fan of Cab Franc like I am – check into Markham Vineyards in Napa. They produce an excellent Cab Franc.