Old World and New World Wines

Photo courtesy: Wine Country Connection

Wines are classified into two main categories:  Old World and New World.  What does this mean?  It is far less complicated than you may think.  Let’s delve into the particularities of the two different regions and learn what the terms “old” and “new” actually mean in the wine universe. 

Though there are many noticeable differences between the Old and New World wine-producing regions, both make exceptional wines that rival each other.  One defining factor that separates the two regions is the concept of “Tradition v Modernisation”.  This equates to the use of some very different winemaking practices depending on where the wine is made.  There can be a wide variance in the different styles of wine that are made around the globe, which has more to do with the geographical location, climate, and terroir in a particular region than how the final wine is made.

What is Old World Wine?

Detailed historical records indicate that wine was made in the country of Georgia over eight thousand years ago. As a result, Europe is considered the birthplace of modern wine, and the majority of the “Old World” wines are made there. Though technically the Middle East is part of Asia, it is still considered to be part of the Old World wine-producing area. Old World wine production is heavily based on many age-old traditions that are entwined with a long history of winemaking that has been around for centuries.  The region that wine is produced in and its respective terroir (specific qualities such as the minerality, elevation, exposure, location, and the climate of a parcel of land where the grapes are grown) are defining factors and are essential components in any Old World wine.  Growing and winemaking practices are highly regulated (by a governing body in most Old World countries).  Strict regulations require winemakers to adhere to precise appellation rules to receive the certification of the appellation that they are producing.  Old World winemakers believe that great terroir makes great wine and that the terroir, not the grape variety that is used, is what determines the final taste and quality of the wine.  

It is considered a very romantic idea to say that all of the best wines come from the Old World, this simply is not true. Though there have been many advances in the area of viticulture and winemaking, The creative freedom of the Old World winemakers is restrained (in comparison to their New World counterparts) if they wish to maintain their appellation status.  This has fostered an attitude of “if it is not broken then it does not need to be fixed”.  Many Old World winemakers proudly adhere to and preserve the ancient traditions that have been in place for centuries and practiced by the generations that came before them. 

Old World wines are typically lighter in body, though this is not always true.  The often cooler climate does not always allow for full ripening of grapes which translates into lower alcohol levels, higher acidity, and lower sugar levels.  Each vintage is made exactly as the one that came before it.  The goal is to continually produce wines that remain constant, there is also less emphasis on the use of new oak and tannins are much more predominant than those found in many New World wines.  Climate change has begun to show its influence on old-world wine styles.

What is  New World Wine?

The New World wine region is made up of any part of the world that is not classified as the Old World.  The principal New World wine regions are the former colonies which include the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa  The climate is typically warmer than in the Old World.  These hotter temperatures translate into fully ripened grapes producing wines that are usually bold and full-bodied.  These fruit-driven wines typically have lower tannins but much higher levels of alcohol than their Old World counterparts, (often above 15% per volume)! New World winemakers are similar to their ancestors who arrived on the shores of these unexplored countries centuries ago.  They continue to demonstrate a pioneering spirit that is reflected through their wines.  They believe that the grape varietal plays a more significant role than the terroir in the expression of the final wine.  New World winemakers are not constrained by archaic winemaking rules which fosters a spirit of innovation.  They also favor the use of modern technology.  The elevated temperatures in many New World regions have resulted in extensive experimentation from both a viticultural and winemaking approach to find grape varietals that can be best adapted to the local terroir, climate, as well as any other environmental factors.  There is a heavy emphasis on high juice extraction and the use of new oak. The lack of strict rules regarding the use of certain grape varietals has led to experimentation with unusual grape blends which has resulted in some very exciting and unique wines.  The majority of the vineyards and grapes are cultivated, harvested, and crushed using machinery.  There is a certain amount of unpredictability from vintage to vintage as the style of the wine varies broadly depending on the growing conditions, the final grape blend, and techniques that are used during the winemaking process.

Is one better than the other?

A common misconception is that Old World wines are superior to their New World counterparts.  This is simply not the case. There are many New World Wines that rival or even outshine those that are produced in the Old World.  It is simply a matter of preference and wine style that a drinker enjoys which will dictate what type of wines you prefer. The best way to decide which style you prefer is to experiment by drinking as many Old and New World wines as you can.

Share via
Sign in to leave a comment
Mesopotamia: the Cradle of Wine Culture