Old World vs. New World: What in the World Does that Mean?
How do you tell the difference between Old World and New World wine styles? Here are 8 great wine examples to help you figure it out.
By Sebastien Lafortune on Sep. 30, 2015
Old World vs. New World Wines Simplified
When you’ve been in the wine business for a while, you tend to use the broad terms of Old World and New World when describing wines and assume that everybody knows what you’re talking about, but that is often not the case.
Just Wine Tip
Old World refers to European wine-producing countries
New World refers to everyone else making wine!
Let’s dive into this topic of old and new a bit further and discuss the styles of wine that each of the regions produce.
Old World Wine Regions
Old World countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Austria have long traditions when it comes to wine making. These are often in the form of rules of production which are regulated by their governments. Some of these include maximum yields allowed from a vineyard, irrigation limits, specific grape varieties that can be used and oak aging requirements. These rules were put in place to preserve the traditions of each region as well as promote their styles. As such, many of their labels use only the name of the region to describe the wine instead of the grape variety. In France you might see wines labelled as Bordeaux, Champagne or Chateauneuf-du-Pape. These names describe the growing region from where the wine comes from and it is generally up to the consumer to know which grape varieties are being used in each of those wines and the styles they produce.
New World Wine Regions
In New World countries such as California, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, and Chile they have learned from the Old World and try to further develop their ideas. Most of these producers have been around for less than 100 years but use modern agricultural techniques in the vineyards to produce wines of high quality. There are fewer rules in terms of production and as such, producers are free to experiment with anything they think will improve their wines. Generally speaking, a winery can make wine from any grape variety in any region; it can irrigate as much or little as it wants; age its wine in barrel or not; and have as big a yield as possible. This does not mean that quality isn’t their prime motivator.
Exceptions to Every Wine Rule
That being said, it isn’t as cut and dry as this. There are New World producers who make wines that are “Old World” in style and Old World producers who make wines that are “New World” in style. This is what makes wine tasting so interesting these days. As sommeliers we blind taste wines regularly, which means we do not know what the wine is, and half the time we are wrong about its content. Wine making has become such a precise art form that the quality of wine has increased exponentially across the globe. Whether you are buying a bottle of Riesling from Germany, Austria, Australia or Canada the wine will probably be well made and show proper varietal characteristics.
Eight Great Wine Examples that Typify New World and Old World Regions
Here are 8 wines for you to check out that offer a glimpse into these two wine worlds. We compare the same grape varieties from two different regions and discuss how they differ.
Chardonnay Wine Varietal
The first comparison is the Jean Marc Brocard Chablis from the Chablis region of France and the Hugo Unwooded Chardonnay from the McLaren Vale region of Australia. Chablis is synonymous with Chardonnay as well as being unoaked in style, which is why we are looking at a similar style of wine from Australia.
The Chablis is a crisp and floral wine with notes of white flowers, jasmine and peaches. The palate is bright with mouth-watering acidity as well as the classic Chablis minerality on the finish. The Hugo on the other hand is riper in style with notes of yellow apples, poached pears and honeydew melon. The palate is rounder with softer acidity but an equally pleasant finish.
Grenache Wine Varietal
The next comparison is Grenache-based wines from California and France. Chateauneuf-du-Pape is famous for this style of wine and is a must when talking about Grenache. We will compare it to a Bonny Doon product from Santa Cruz called Le Cigare Volant, which is a Grenache-based blend as well. When looking at these two wines we see many similarities because Bonny Doon is making his wine in an Old World style, trying to mimic the wines from the region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Even the name is a pun on an actual French law that prohibits the landing of UFOs in the region. Both wines show classic stewed plum aromas with silky tannins and a juicy finish. It would be interesting to try the two side by side in a blind tasting to see how they would show.
Sangiovese Wine Varietal
Sangiovese is next up. It isn’t very common to see this grape variety outside of Tuscany, let alone Italy, but we have an Okanagan one to showcase from Sandhill and we will compare that with Fontodi Chianti Classico from Tuscany. Here we can taste the difference in the styles for sure. The Sandhill is riper in style with lots of plum, cassis and cherry while the Fontodi shows a seamless integration of bright red fruits along with tobacco, cedar and leather. While both wines are tasty, there is no mistaking one for the other; their respective terroir speak loudly.
Riesling Wine Varietal
Riesling is our last comparison and we will compare Alsace and New Zealand. Trimbach was founded in 1626 in Alsace and New Zealand producer Staete Landt. Both producers make a Riesling which is dry in style but there are definite nuances that distinguish them apart. Trimbach has a delicate bouquet that is somewhat restrained; the fruit doesn’t jump out of the glass here; instead it sits back and lets you discover the flavours. It is an elegant wine with a full mouthfeel that stays on your palate. While Staete Landt doesn’t have the same history, it produced its first wines in 2000, and it is one of the top producers from NZ. The aromas here do jump out of the glass in the form of lemon, lime and pink grapefruit. The wine is lighter in body but just as tasty.
This should clear up any confusion on what constitutes New World wine regions and Old World wine regions.
Read More about Old World Wines vs. New World Wines:
Origins of Wine 311: Old World vs. New World
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