Two common wine terms, but what do they really mean?
We’re back with another edition of Ask The Expert! Today we’re looking at two of the most common terms in the wine world – “Old World” and “New World”.
Here is Monika’s answer to the question: What’s The Difference Between Old World Wines and New World Wines?
Stylistically and geographically wine falls into two broad stylistic categories; Old World and New World. Old World is classified as wines of European producing regions, while New World style reflects the wines of North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
There are good, bad, and mediocre wines from both worlds, and of course, hosts of quality differences based on individual producers.
Old World wine characteristics play to tradition, as the history of those wine regions has been established for a great many centuries. Old World wines tend to offer a great deal of structure and tannins, which need time to evolve. The grapes are picked at lower sugar levels than typical for New World wines, therefore alcohol levels are often lower as well. The aromatics on Old World wines are more muted with the wines in need of aeration or decanting, well in advance of consumption. They are often “tight” and begin to evolve upon opening as oxygen enters the bottle or glass. Winemakers and critics often refer to these wines as “elegant”, as they tend to be subtle and linear in style and composition.
With time, many Old World wines become approachable and provide layers and layers of nuanced, magnificent flavors. The process can take years, and sometimes decades, depending on the region and style of the wine. In the exploration of a wine list, sometimes there are Old World wines from 15-20 years ago, often with a high sticker price. The pricing climbs as both the producer and restaurant have kept the wine in inventory for years, which adds to the cost of purchase.
All this aside, there is no guarantee that you will actually enjoy the wine! If your palate and sensibilities lean towards more fruit driven, approachable, ready-to-drink wines, you might struggle with the complexities of an old Burgundy or Bordeaux and find many Italian Barolos tight and lean. It is absolutely normal to have those impressions and it does not make you a wine weakling. There is power in the knowledge that you can prefer whatever wine style you like, and choose accordingly.
For most Americans, New World wines begin with California winemakers, as they set the standards for high quality wines in the modern era. California wine evolution has been filled with a rich history of Europeans sharing their winemaking culture and skills since the 1800’s. California winemaking has set the tone for other New World regions within and beyond the United States. Quality has grown tremendously over the past few decades, so much so that in the renowned “Tasting of Paris” of 1976, a panel of world-class critics chose Chateau Montelena Chardonnay (New World) as the winner over a renowned selection of Burgundy wines (Old World) as the top performer in a blind tasting. This set the wine world on fire, and as California established quality standards, other, New World producers followed.
Today’s New World styles are viewed as fruit driven, more immediately approachable, with higher phenolic ripeness and alcohol levels that present on the palate as hints of sweetness. When referencing round, smooth tannins, critics are talking about these characteristic, which are more unusual in the Old World counterparts. New World wines may be a bit higher in alcohol content, as sugar levels at harvest drive this component upwards. Nevertheless, quality of wine is dictated by balance that refers to fruit, structure, and alcohol in combination with the overall mouthfeel. In other words, alcohol level is not necessarily a problem if the overall wine is perceived as delicious.
The structure and tannins of Old World wines demand food as a companion. European wine consumption has always been about wine as an essential ingredient to any meal. Wines from the different regions of Europe have been refined over centuries to best reflect and complement the cuisine of the region where they are produced. Once enjoyed with food, Old World wines present in harmony with all of the flavors of the dishes. Conversely, New World wines can be enjoyed well with meals, but also on their own as the round and softer tannins do not require food for balance.
Stylistically you do not need to favor one over the other. You can easily choose to enjoy great Chianti with your lasagna while the next day select a Napa Valley Chardonnay with your grilled chicken.
New World wine can be more difficult to match with food, since the ripeness, alcohol levels and intensity can overshadow flavors. Old World wines without food can be a problem, since many of the wines will make your mouth pucker and get you salivating for food for balance.
Here are some shortcuts to remember:
|Old World Style||New World Style|
|Elegant, Finessed||Opulent, Rich|
|Needs Food||Delicious on its own|
Have a burning question of your own? Shoot us a tweet or a message on our Facebook page and we’ll line up an expert to get you an answer! In the meantime you can peruse all of our Expert Answers here!