Old World vs New World Wine: What’s the Difference?

old world vs new world wine: what’s the difference

What exactly is the difference between Old World and New World wines?  The primary difference between these two wine ideas is geography.  Old World wines refer to wines which come from vineyards from Europe and the Mediterranean.  European and some Middle Eastern wines are considered “Old World”, as these are the areas in which wine making first developed.  On the other hand, New World wine includes wines made in other parts of the world, to include North America, Latin America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and anywhere else.  There are also differing wine making philosophies which further differentiate these two styles of wine.

Geography

Old World wines hail from the classical homes of wine-making.  This includes the Middle Eastern, North African, and European regions of wine-making, where the beverage was first produced thousands of years ago.  As early as prehistoric times, humans have made wine throughout the “Old World”.  Wine had been a prominent part of the culture of Sumer, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, the Persian Empire, and the Roman Empire. With changing religious sentiments, many of the formerly Old World wine territories in the Middle East and North Africa no longer produce wine in large quantities, meaning current Old World wines largely come from Europe.

New World wines are essentially made in regions in which wine making was exported from the Old World.  Much of this exportation of wine making occurred during the age of Exploration and Colonialism, during which Europeans spread wine making expertise and grew vineyards in various colonial territories in the Americas, Africa, and Oceania. Although there were native grape species in some of these New World regions, indigenous wine making was never widespread, meaning there is a direct cultural link between the Old World and New World of wine.  Some of these new wine making regions became so prolific that they begin to rival in quantity the amount of wine produced in the Old World.    Although the basic definition of Old and New World wines is geographic, there are distinct differences in flavor, winemaking philosophy, and methods which differentiate the two styles.

Flavor and Composition

When thinking about the flavors of Old World, and New World, it is important to take into consideration the tradition that has been involved. Once upon a time wine presses were giant wooden baskets, with metal cork screws to tighten the lid. Men or animals would squeeze the juice from whole clusters of grapes in these monoliths. The winemakers didn’t understand ripeness beyond appearance and the tastebuds of the farm hand. The culture of wine thrived and became entrenched in this environment resulting in many wines that were highly acidic, intensely tannic, low alcohol and light bodied. These wines NEEDED to be aged in order to be palatable, and thus the traditions of Old World wine were born. It is unfair to say that wines of the Old World are stuck in these traditions, but many of the laws surrounding wine making in the Old World, and more specifically the EU, have very strict rules based on these traditions. All of this context helps to make a generalization like Old World wines are leaner, tighter, better with food, and intentionally age able, more palatable to a person thinking about wine. More and more winemakers in Europe are throwing off these limitations to make the wine they think is best. New tech, and old tradition are meeting.

All that said if a generalization had to be made, it is safe to assume that the European tradition of wine and food together, has lead to a more food friendly, and therefore more acid, less alcohol style is true. Wine makers in CA had prohibition to disrupt our industry and halt “tradition”. This meant when wine making started back up  in the 1950’s and ’60’s people were thinking less about pairing with food and more about cocktail hr. The wines became about drinking, and social interaction in a party sense, and not about daily integration. You drank water with meals after saying your prayers, and wine at happy hour when God wasn’t looking.

Wine Making Philosophy

All of this history has lead to differences in wine making philosophy and method which help to separate the two styles.  Old world wines tend to be much more defined in their fixed wine-making methodology.  The regulation by wine making organizations dictate age old technology and well defined processes that have been proven throughout the ages to produce a consistent, traditional product.  Old world wines are typically named after their location of origin, which highlights the extent to which “terroir”, or the wine making environment, matters.  The various factors of the wine’s region, such as climate, soil conditions, geography, local ecosystem, vineyard practices, and local grape cultivars help create the specific flavor that defines these wines.  The end product of an Old World vineyard and winery is truly a testament to the traditions and culture of the region from which it comes.

On the other hand, New world wines are much more innovative and experimental.  They tend to be less regulated by winemaking associations and are often developed using various newer technologies.  These new technologies promote experimentation and innovation, compared to the tradition and consistency of Old World wines.  Because of the level of variety even within New World regions, these wines tend to be named after the type of grape used in production.  Wines made in areas as distant as California, Argentina, and New Zealand can have the same name, as long as the same variety of wine is used. Compared to Old World wines, there is more emphasis placed on the individual winemaker, rather than the region of origin or tradition.

Which is Better?

Old World Wines have long been considered the gold standard of wine, as they represent the original culture and taste of wine.  However, in the past century, more and more New World wines have held their own and gained esteem among members of the wine community.  Wines from areas such as California and Chile have become world renowned for their quality, to the point that tourists visit places such as Napa Valley to experience these hot spots of New World wines.  Ultimately, the choice between Old World and New World wines is one of personal preference.

Conclusion

Distinct geographic factors, flavor characteristics, and wine making process and philosophy differentiate Old World and New World wines.  Old World wines are grown around the Mediterranean and European region from which wine making was first developed.  The process of colonization then spread wine making to much of the world, where a distinct New World style of wine developed.  Old World wines have a history of being subtle and subdued in flavor, lower in alcohol content, and are often enjoyed with meals, whereas New World wines have a more opulent taste, more alcohol, and are often enjoyed on their own.  These differences in content and flavor can be traced to differences in wine making philosophy.  Old World wines are much more focused on terroir and ancient traditions, whereas New World wines are focused on experimentation and the individual winemaker.  These two great worlds of winemaking produce a great variety of tastes for the entire wine tasting world to thoroughly enjoy.