Tomorrow, I’m going to a wine tasting (is there a better way to spend a Friday?). The theme is Old World vs. New World: The Reds. We’ll be tasting six different wines — one Old World and one New World wine for three different red wine varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Merlot.
I hate that unprepared-for-a-test feeling, so in advance of our wine tasting, I’m doing a little research about exactly what Old World and New World mean in the wine world.
Generally speaking (when someone says generally speaking, there’s about to be a but, so keep reading), Old World wines are from Europe. New World wines are from everywhere else.
BUT (told you so) . . . Old World and New World aren’t just locations on a map, they’re also also winemaking styles. How a wine is made is just as important as where it is made. For example, a winemaker in France might make a New World style wine (what? it could happen). Or a winemaker in California might make an Old World style wine.
Knowing which style you prefer and how to tell the difference goes a long way in helping select and buy wines you will enjoy. Not sure about your wine style? Take this fun (and quick) quiz from Food & Wine.
So how can you tell whether you’re buying Old World or New World wine?
Location, Location, Location
Where was your wine born?
Important* Old World Winemaking Countries: France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Hungary, Croatia, Romania.
Important* New World winemaking countries: The United States, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, South Africa.
* But by no means all . . . I realize there are more winemaking countries than I listed here. Hence the asterisk. My apologies to the Tajikistans and the Paraguays of the world for the snub.
Judge a Wine by its Label
Because they have generations of tradition and experience, Old World (European) wine laws are very strict. Reams of regulations specify which grapes can be grown where, in what style, and with what technique.
Pursuant to all those regulations, Old World wine labels emphasize place (terroir) instead of a grape variety. This can be a bummer for wine beginners, because if you don’t just happen to know that Haut Médoc is an appellation in the Bordeaux region of France, where it is only permitted to plant Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Malbec . . . then you really have no idea what’s in this bottle. But maybe you like surprises?
New world wine laws aren’t as strict as they are in the Old World – they allow for a certain amount of experimentation and innovation. Blissfully, New World wine labels use more of a WYSIWYG approach. There are no surprises — you know exactly what’s in this bottle.
The style in which a wine is made holds massive sway over how a wine ends up tasting in your glass. Lots of elements converge to create a style, but winemaking and climate are at the top of that list.
Old World Winemaking: The emphasis is on tradition and terroir. European countries have been making wine since Bacchus was a baby — they have thousands of years of winemaking experience and tradition. They know their terroir (the land, soil and climate), and they know which grapes work there and which don’t. Old World winemakers let the terroir do the talking. Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey would make a superb Old World winemaker.
New World Winemaking: The emphasis is on science, technology and trend. Winemakers in the New World quickly learned that conditions were different than what they knew in Europe. They couldn’t use the same winemaking methods and philosophies, so they started experimenting with new grapes and techniques. Steve Jobs would have made an excellent New World winemaker.
Old World Climate: Wine regions in Europe are cooler than those in the New World. The growing season is shorter, so grapes are picked earlier – and they aren’t as ripe. These grapes produce a more acidic wine with lower alcohol and lighter body . . . but with harsh(er) tannins. Old World wines are more likely to need a little time in the cellar before they are ready to drink.
New World Climate: Wine regions in the New World are warmer, and have a longer growing season. Grapes are picked when they are much riper. These grapes produce a less acidic wine with higher alcohol levels and a fuller body. New World wines are more apt to be ready to drink “now”, requiring little, and sometimes no cellar time.
Old World & New Wine Words: Learn a handful of these Old World and New World wine buzz words, and you can not only decipher wine reviews . . . you can write them!
And now that you’ve endured my little primer about Old World and New World wine, I know you’ll enjoy this as much as I did:
I feel ready for my Old World vs. New World wine tasting now — I can’t wait to taste the wines! We’ll also be doing food pairings for each wine so, stay tuned for my follow-up post with tasting notes, pairings and recipes!