Have you ever wondered what the terms “Old World” and “New World” mean? What are old world wines? What are new world wines?
When you're standing in the supermarket aisle staring at two seemingly identical bottles, do you feel like ripping your hair out?
Take a deep breath, we've got your back. Read on so you can be an expert the next time you talk about old world and new world wines.
Old World vs. New World Wines
The main differences between these terms is purely geographical and is based on how long the countries have been making wine.
Map of America, a New World wine country
Old World countries are the traditional wine producing countries in Europe and the Middle East. They all have a long established history in winemaking. Most notably France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal.
New World countries are the new kids on the block and are emerging wine producing countries such as the United States, Australia, South America, South Africa and more recently countries in Asia.
Know nothing about Asian wines? Read our article Why You Should Drink Asian Wines Today
Do Old World wines taste different to New World wines and why?
The simple answer to this is yes because wines are strongly influenced by what they call terroir*:
*The combination of the natural environment where the grapes are grown, including soil, climate and topography of the region, and the different winemaking philosophies and practices used in the wine's production.
Old World winemaking values tradition and terroir. So, many old world winemakers believe the best way to make wine is by following the time tested methods pioneered by their winemaking ancestors, who often turn out to be their own great-great-grandparents.
While New World winemakers also value terroir, they are more open to switching it up by experimenting with the latest scientific advances and adopting modern winemaking techniques.
This brings us to the question, how do these differences affect how the wines taste?
*Terroir: The natural environment including soil, climate and topography
Characteristics of Old World vs New World Wine
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, because there are so many factors that contribute to a style of a wine.
Take baking a cake for example. Imagine you have a time-tested recipe for a devilish chocolate cake, but this time you want to spice it up. So you add a pinch of cayenne to turn it into an devilish chocolate cake with a little kick.
Or perhaps you turn up your oven temperature a little higher to speed up the baking process and make the cake a bit drier. Or to add some crunch to your brownie, you decided to add some peanuts.
The same kind of experimentation happens within wine styles. Winemakers follow a basic "recipe" to make wines, but ultimately each winemaker wants to add a personal touch to their wines.
On top of that, the season, eg. the oven for our cake, also effects how the wines turn out for a particular vintage, the year in which the wine was produced.
Like how adding peanuts helped us control the crunchiness of our cake, ageing wine in barrels helps winemakers control the woody aromas of a wine. Different types of barrels impose different kinds of "toastiness" to the wines aged in them.
There are many similarities between baking and winemaking
Generally speaking, old world wines tend to be more elegant, have higher acidity and tannins, and exhibit more minerality and earthiness. That’s why many old world wines tend to require longer periods of bottle-aging in order to mature and to develop complexity.
On the other hand, New World wines are generally more fruit-forward, varietal driven and offer a more refined style because modern winemaking methods allow winemakers to eliminate any undesirable characteristics.
You'll read a bunch of articles saying that New World wines are all 'powerful' and 'robust' and a beautiful fusion of manly Aussie fun and American chill, but generalisations are so 2000s. In 2017, we don't need to force wines into adhering to narrowly defined labels.
There are a lot of talented New World winemakers making elegant wines with traditional methods, and there plenty Old World winemakers pushing the boundaries of winemaking.
The Yin and Yang of Old World and New World Wines
Remember that teacher back in school that refused to listen to any of your excuses? Old world wines grew up with a very strict teacher, with organisations and governments enforcing many laws to ensure a high minimum standard of quality.
This is essentially the appellation classification system, where winemakers need to meet strict regulations in order to label their wine with a specific appellation, for example “Sancerre AOC France”.
Geographical boundaries, grape varieties, number of vines per acre, grape yields and alcohol levels are some of the factors that are part of the guidelines that a winemaker must follow to label his wine with a specific appellation.
Let’s compare an Old World rosé (France) to a New World rosé (Japan) to see how appellation and winemaking practices play pivotal roles in the final product.
Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Rosé 2013
Grace Rosé 2014
Sancerre AOC, France
100% Pinot Noir
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot
A delicate and elegant pale salmon pink rosé with layers of herb, strawberry and a clean, crisp finish
A deep coloured rosé with plenty of confectionary and red fruit flavours. Robust and powerful whilst offering a dry, juicy and plush palate.
Direct Pressing, Saignée
Direct Pressing, Saignée
Each country has its own restrictions, and therefore their own appellation. For example, France has the “French AOC” (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) and Japan has the “Mark of Origin” (Gensanchi Hyōji).
So how can the same winemaking techniques result in two very different wines? In France the strict "Sancerre AOC" classification requires a rosé wine to be made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes from Sancerre. Additionally, there it must contain a minimum of 10% alcohol.
In contrast any wine made in Japan can be labeled as “Japanese wine”, regardless of the source or varieties of the grapes. Grace Winery is not required to follow any official restriction on the varieties used to make a Japanese rosé and is free to choose which viticultural practices it uses and the alcohol percentage of the final product.
So should you choose an Old World or New World wine?
This is entirely up to you! Now that you know something about old world and new world wines you can choose for yourself.
Everyone has slightly different preferences so experiment and try new wines. You’ll never know what you’ll like if you always stick to the same wines.
Frankly it’s fun to discover new things and wine drinking is all about fun. So what will your next bottle be? Let us know!