Travelling the world we get to experience a lot of wine and a lot of wine regions, but we still get confused standing in a wine shop. So we thought we’d reach out to some wine experts and have them help us with a series on understanding wine, picking wine and pairing wine. We start with the learning the difference between New World and Old World wines. Here’s the first instalment in our new series Wine Around the World.
New World Wine
New World wines are produced in those regions of the world that have only recently become popularized winemakers. Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, United States, Hong Kong, and South Africa are all makers of New World wines. New World vineyards tend to, for the most part, have hotter climates, some even located in irrigated deserts, leading the grapes to be much more ripe when they are harvested. This causes the wines to be higher in alcohol content, and so more full bodied. There is an emphasis in the production of New World wine, towards fruit driven flavors. They value the new oak barrels, and the oaking process more heavily then do Old World wine makers. The Australian Chardonnays popularized in the late 1980s are a perfect example of this. As they lacked the knowledge’s of what grapes would perform best in a given region, New World viticulturalists had the need to develop technologies to perfect their wines. By the use of advanced irrigation systems, adding compounds to the wine, mixing grape varietals and placing a heavy reliance on the oaking process, winemakers were able to overcome their lack of knowledge and experience with their land. Winemakers often select grapes from many sources, popularizing varietal labeling, which became more commonly used in the 60s and 70s. Rather then focusing on their geography, New World winemakers focus on their branding, which serves a multinational audience, and comes at a greater value.
As compared to Old World wines, New World wines are recognized as being a more reliable, predictable, homogenous choice. When it comes down to it, many people are just looking for a bottle of wine that is cheap, they know they will like, and that will be the same every time. Ironically, these are the same reasons that New World wines are criticized. Some say that this consistency and predictability makes for a less interesting wine. As they lack a recognizable thumbprint from the soil they were harvested, people who value the terroir of a wine tend to stay away from New World wines.
Old World wines date back hundreds and sometimes thousands of years (the Roman Empire). Today, they are harvested in the Mediterranean Basin and Europe (France, Spain, Germany, Austria etc). Old World wines in general are characterized to be subtler in flavor and more reserved. Unlike New World wines, these ones place an emphasis on tradition and terroir. Many of the vineyards are passed down from generation to generation, and so have a long family history. The Old World vineyards date back centuries; giving the winegrowers the time to determine which grape varietals grew best in certain regions and which areas of land consistently produced the finest quality wine. The techniques and practices used in each region have been enshrined in local wine laws (Appelation d’Origine Controlee (AOC)) and are based on that regions unique climates and landscapes.
The large emphasis on terroir in Old World wines places a heavy importance on the wine communicating a sense of place, and so, gives priority to the terroir driven characteristics of the wine. In trying to down play the role of the winemaker and the grape varietal, they stay away from any new techniques that the New World wine makers may use that mask the expression of the terroir. While New World winemakers use cultured yeast strains, Old World winemakers stick to wild ambient yeasts during fermentation. In addition, the fermentation is at higher temperatures, which leads to the production of wines that are much more tannic and require longer aging periods. Many say that this process makes these wines more complex.
While New World vineyards tend to be quite spread out, Old World vineyards have a very high vine density. The reasoning for this is simply because they were planted long before the used of mechanical agriculture was invented and heavily normalized.
The often cheaper prices of the New World wines have put the Old World Wines in a compromising position. Since Old World wines have maintained their intrinsic personality, which values its relationship with its soils and the unique characteristics with the regions from which they derive, they offer something to the consumer that New World wines don’t, thus giving them the staying power to last for centuries more!