There are many factors that can be considered when choosing a wine, but have you ever wondered what the difference is between “Old World” and “New World” wines? And perhaps more importantly — have you ever wondered what those differences mean for the glass (or bottle) you’re about to enjoy?
Location, Location, Location: It’s Not Just for Real Estate
When we talk about “Old World,” we’re talking about wines produced in Europe that are imbued with a strong sense of history and culture. Even with the adoption of new techniques and equipment, many European producers still maintain – and pride themselves on – the authenticity of their wine and use traditional production methods governed by very strict national laws.
The Old World also gives a healthy nod to the concept of “terroir,” or how geography, climate, and geology affect local soils. The composition of the soil and the climate in which the grapes are grown imparts unique characteristics to the wines produced, lending specific wine regions a particular taste profile. Climates in Europe tend to be more temperate, with moderately warm days and cool nights. Soils can be less fertile, include a lot of clay, and may even be rocky.
With these factors in mind, Old World production is more an expression of the earth and climate in which the grapes were grown than of the grapes themselves. The wines tend to be less full-bodied, more tannic, and more acidic. They also tend to have more pronounced mineral, herbal, and aromatic qualities. While Old World wines can be aged in oak, the flavors the oak imparts (vanilla, leather, tobacco) may be subtler.
If the Old World is Europe, it’s pretty easy to figure out what constitutes the “New World” – basically everywhere else. All new world producers are, relatively speaking, “new” to wine production, compared with Europe. Unencumbered by history (though still mindful of it), New World producers have adapted their production to modern conveniences. They’re also trailblazers, with some producing grape varietals in climates that were previously considered unsuitable, such as the cold, wet climate of Oregon. These regions include the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Argentina, among many others.
In some areas of the New World, the climate differs significantly from the wine producing regions of the Old World, which has a corresponding impact on how the wines taste. The warmer climates of Australia, South Africa, and California produce wines with more ripe fruit characteristics than wines produced in the cooler climates of the Old World. New World wines tend to be more full-bodied and alcoholic, a characteristic of riper grapes. There is also a more liberal use of new oak, resulting in more pronounced flavor profiles.
One Grape, Two Regions
Let’s compare two wines produced from the same grape: a White Burgundy from France and a Chardonnay from Napa Valley. Both use the Chardonnay grape, but are grown in two different climates.
Burgundy’s more northerly location lends itself to warm summers with cool nights and plenty of rain, which allows the grapes to ripen just enough. White Burgundies are traditionally unoaked. This results in a full-bodied, crisp wine that is full of fruit flavors, but not ripe tasting, with earthy and mineral notes.
Napa Valley, by contrast, has a longer and hotter summer with relatively little rain, and is cooled by ocean winds and fog at night. This allows the grapes to ripen much more fully. California Chardonnays also are typically aged in new oak. The result is also a full-bodied wine with more ripened fruit notes. The oak aging also lends buttery and vanilla notes that are instantly recognizable when tasting California Chardonnays.
All of this boils down to taste and, more specifically, your taste. Regardless of whether you choose your wine by color, producer, or the design of the label, these factors can guide you to the bottle that best matches your preferences without ever having to taste it. But of course, tasting is the only way to know for sure, so invite over a few friends and compare and contrast the beautiful results of the Old and New Worlds.
A few wines that exhibit “Old World” characteristics:
- Bordeaux (France)
- Chablis (France)
- Chianti (Italy)
Although characteristically European, you can still find examples of Old World wines right here in the United States, such as Noto’s Old World Italian Dining, where you can pair your Old World wine with some equally traditional cooking.
A few wines that exhibit “New World” characteristics:
- Shiraz (Australia)
- Zinfandel (California)
- Chenin Blanc (South Africa)
Want to taste the New World? California is among the most notable destinations for American wine — and you can taste a piece of the New World’s wine history at The Wine Tailor, part of California’s oldest winery.
More on Wine
Remember that you must be at least 21 years old to drink in the USA and to always drink responsibly. This information is intended for informational purposes only, and not to promote the consumption of alcohol.