Unpolished Grape 101: Old World Vs. New World Wines

As you venture through the world of wine, you may come across common words and phrases. Understanding what “Old World” and “New World” wine means may help you to decipher some basic wine points.

What is Old World Wine?

Grapes are believed to have originated from the country of Georgia, in 6,000 BC. Wine was most likely discovered as grapes were stored/buried under ground over the winter, only to emerge as fermented wine in the Spring (wine naturally ferments from natural yeasts under the right conditions). Imagine being the one to discover this beautiful invention and pitch it to Shark Tank! But I digress. Over the centuries, wine-making spread throughout Europe, where France became the hub.

Old World Wine refers to wine made in Europe. France, Spain, Italy, Portugal are major players on the European wine scene. Even being the granddaddy of them all, Georgian wine-making plays a much smaller role on the international scene but is still a part of the tight vino pack.

What is New World Wine?

By process of elimination, New World Wine, is basically “everywhere else.” These regions are Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, New Zealand and the U.S. and all other countries outside of Europe. South African wine is considered New World, although it is the oldest of the “new” countries.

These regions adopted and employed wine-making techniques when European settlers brought their vines and wine with them to their new homes. As a result, the tradition gained ground and expanded to other areas in the country suitable for grape-growing. Although earlier settlers may have tried different varieties in the New World based on European grape-growing, over time they ultimately settled on the most successful grape varieties for that region.

In some cases, the New World country grows more of a grape than its predecessor. For example, when we think of Malbec, we think of Argentina. In fact, many wine-drinkers don’t even know that Malbec is a French variety because we usually associate the grape with South America. Although it indeed originated in Cahors region of Southwest France, Argentina has adopted it and brought it modern-day fame.

What are the Major Differences of Old/New World Wine?

Taste– Given that most Old World grape-growing regions are in cooler climates, the wine will taste different. Overall, there is a greater propensity to have higher acidity, less alcohol and an overall lighter body as a result of these factors. Whereas the warmer temperatures of New World countries (many nestled in the warm Southern Hemisphere) cause grapes to ripen more, making wine less acidic and higher in alcohol/fruit/sugar – all factors that give a wine more weight and body.

Labels– European wine marketing is terroir-driven, or “Sense of Place.” Terroir refers to the combination of climate, soil, and other natural factors that effect how a grape grows and tastes. European countries place a higher weight on terroir, thereby highlighting the place on their labels. In short, regions want their bragging-rights for their sense of place and don’t want other’s to copy their name.

For example, a “Burgundy” wine is from the Burgundy region of France. And a “Chianti” wine is from, well Chianti, Italy. On the contrary, New World regions place less of an emphasis on terroir and label wines by the actual variety. For example, you’ll see wines simply labeled “Cabernet Sauvignon,” or “Pinot Grigio.”

Left: Old World/Region— Right: New World/Grape

Laws– Eurpoean wine laws are collectively different from New World laws. Many of these regions have grape-growing and wine-aging rules that all growers and wine-makers must adhere to, respectively. For example, in Burgundy, grape-growers are only allowed to grow Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gamay or Aligote. In addition, Spanish laws categorize wine by it’s aging level (Joven, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva.) On the contrary, winemakers in the U.S. can choose which grapes to grow, and where, without having to follow aging laws.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this lesson!


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