Wine 101: Are You Old World or New World?

One of my goals as a wine educator is to demystify wine for my students. Why should our enjoyment of this venerated beverage be shrouded in obscure terms of art, overly technical jargon, and hyper-specific esoterica? Wine should be accessible, inclusive, and appreciated by everyone. I believe in wine democracy--let’s all be cork dorks!

In the first of an occasional series of wine knowledge basics, let’s approach a major theme that groups wine into two camps: Old World and New World. You’ve probably encountered these terms in wine shops, wine lists at restaurants, or in conversation with other wine lovers.

But what are Old World and New World wines anyway?

The most salient difference between the categories relates to geography and the origins of Vitis vinifera--the primary grape species used in making wine. “Old World” refers to legacy winegrowing regions of Europe and Middle East, including France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Greece and Georgia. It is in these areas that wine has been made for thousands of years, as well as where Vitis vinifera grapes first originated and were cultivated.

“New World” refers to regions where winemaking practices and Vitis vinifera grapes were imported, either during the era of exploration of sometime after. The USA, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, and South Africa are the main wine producers of the New World. Emerging wine regions such as China, India, and Japan are also included.

Another key distinction relates to how wines from the Old World and New World taste. Exceptions to the rule abound, but there are overarching flavor profiles that distinguish the two. Old World wines tend to be lighter-bodied, displaying more earthy or herbal components, lower in alcohol, and more acidic. A cooler climate overall is one reason for these characteristics, but centuries of traditional winemaking techniques and heavy regulation of wine production are the dominant factors that dictate this style.

New World wines, by contrast, are often fuller-bodied, exhibit more fruit-driven attributes, are higher in alcohol, and less acidic. Broadly speaking, these regions tend to be warmer, much less regulated and tradition-dependent, giving winemakers freedom to employ newer techniques and technology. Winemaking practices vary dramatically, but this style is often more associated with wines that are oak-influenced or highly-extracted.

In recent years, the labels “Old World” and “New World” have taken on pseudo-ideological meanings as well, stoking lively discussion--and sometimes arguments--between wine enthusiasts. “Old World” suggests tradition, non-interventional wine-making, and a romantic attachment to history, while “New World” implies science, corporations, and entrepreneurialism.

To further enliven--and maybe complicate--the discussion, the trend nowadays is toward Old World styles of wine, which many New World producers are beginning to employ and market heavily. Producing wines that display typicity, or a “sense of place” is all the rage. At the same time, some Old World producers are making more New World style wines to meet the increasing market demands of younger wine drinkers, who tend to favor fruitier, bolder styles.

Confused yet?

Practically speaking, the terms “Old World” and “New World” still hold valuable meaning. And like the explorers of yore, discovering what “World” you live in will help you navigate your wine universe!

So are you Old World or New World?

Want to discover what world you’re in? Contact me, Erlinda A. Doherty, aka “The Wine Evangelist” and we can figure it out together! As a Certified Specialist in Wine, WSET Level 3, I’m educating the Columbia community about all things wine.

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erlinda@thevinicola.com  |  202.247.1268

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