Old World vs. New World — Wine 101 Course (Week 5 of 8)

Jul 5, 2024by Andrew Lowry

Week 5: Old World vs New World Wines - Unveiling the Differences

Welcome to Week 5 of our Wine 101 Course! This week, we're diving into one of the most fascinating dichotomies in the wine world: Old World vs New World wines. Understanding these differences will significantly enhance your wine appreciation and help you navigate wine lists with confidence.

What's Old, What's New?

Before we delve deeper, let's define our terms:

  • Old World refers to the traditional wine-producing regions of Europe and the Middle East. Think France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and even Armenia.
  • New World encompasses wine regions outside these traditional areas, including the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Key Differences: It's More Than Just Geography

The distinctions between Old World and New World wines go beyond their locations on a map. Let's explore the key differences:

1. Climate and Geography

  • Old World: Generally cooler climates with more varied terroir. This often results in wines with higher acidity and lower alcohol content.
  • New World: Typically warmer climates with more consistent growing conditions. This tends to produce riper grapes, leading to fruitier wines with higher alcohol content.

2. Winemaking Regulations

  • Old World: Stricter regulations govern winemaking practices. For example, France's AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) and Italy's DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) systems tightly control everything from grape varieties to production methods.
  • New World: Winemakers enjoy more flexibility, allowing for experimentation and innovation.

3. Labeling Conventions

  • Old World: Wines are often labeled by region. For instance, you'll see "Bordeaux" rather than "Cabernet Sauvignon."
  • New World: Wines are usually labeled by grape variety, making it easier for consumers to know what's in the bottle.

Winemaking Philosophies: Tradition Meets Innovation

The approaches to winemaking in the Old and New World reflect their historical and cultural contexts:

Old World Approach

  • Emphasizes terroir and tradition
  • Focuses on balance and subtlety
  • Often produces wines with lower alcohol content
  • Aims to express the unique characteristics of the land

New World Approach

  • Emphasizes fruit-forward flavors
  • Tends towards bolder, more robust wines
  • Often results in higher alcohol content
  • Focuses on varietal expression and technological innovation

It's worth noting that these distinctions are becoming less rigid as winemakers worldwide share knowledge and techniques.

A Tour of Major Wine Regions

Let's take a quick trip around the globe to explore some iconic wine regions:

Old World

  1. France
    • Bordeaux: Known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends
    • Burgundy: Home to exceptional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
    • Champagne: The birthplace of the world's most famous sparkling wine
  2. Italy
    • Tuscany: Sangiovese reigns supreme (Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino)
    • Piedmont: Land of the noble Nebbiolo (Barolo, Barbaresco)
  3. Spain
    • Rioja: Tempranillo-based reds are the stars
    • Jerez: The home of Sherry
  4. Germany
    • Mosel: Riesling paradise
    • Rheingau: Another Riesling stronghold, with some excellent Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir)
  5. Armenia
    • Ararat Valley: One of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, known for indigenous varieties like Areni

New World

  1. California, USA
    • Napa Valley: Cabernet Sauvignon country
    • Sonoma: Diverse region excelling in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
  2. Oregon, USA
    • Willamette Valley: Producing world-class Pinot Noir
  3. Washington, USA
    • Columbia Valley: Known for bold reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah
  4. Argentina
    • Mendoza: Malbec's adopted home
  5. Australia
    • Barossa Valley: Bold Shiraz (Syrah) rules here
    • Margaret River: Excels in Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay
  6. Chile
    • Central Valley: Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère thrive
  7. New Zealand
    • Marlborough: Sauvignon Blanc put this region on the map

Tasting Exercise: Old World vs New World

To truly understand the differences, try this comparative tasting:

  1. Chardonnay: Burgundy (France) vs California
  2. Cabernet Sauvignon: Bordeaux (France) vs Napa Valley
  3. Pinot Noir: Burgundy (France) vs Willamette Valley (Oregon)

Pay attention to differences in fruit expression, body, acidity, and overall structure.

Food for Thought

As we wrap up this week's lesson, consider these discussion points:

  • Do you have a personal preference for Old World or New World wines? Why?
  • How has globalization impacted winemaking styles around the world?
  • With climate change and evolving winemaking practices, do you think the distinctions between Old World and New World will become less relevant in the future?

Remember, there's no right or wrong in wine preferences. The joy is in the exploration and discovery of what you love. Next week, we'll delve into the fascinating world of wine aging and storage. Until then, happy tasting!