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Wine 101: Old World vs. New World

Living in the wine world, you may hear the terms “Old World” and “New World” bantered about. This basically just means “European” or “Non-European” wine.

Within each category, each country’s winemaking style and traditions will vary greatly – but there are some general characteristics that tie the two groups together:

OLD WORLD NEW WORLD
Country
of Origin
  • France
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • US
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Chile
  • Argentina
  • South Africa
OLD WORLD NEW WORLD
How Wines
are Named
Generally named for their region:
  • Bordeaux
  • Champagne
  • Burgundy
Generally named for a
varietal:
  • Chardonnay
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Pinot Noir
OLD WORLD NEW WORLD
How Wine Names are Regulated Most growing regions dictate which grape(s) may be grown in which areas. There are also many rigid laws regulating how the wines must be produced in order to be labeled a certain way.  E.g.
  • Red Burgundy (France)  can only be made from Pinot Noir grapes
  • Rioja “Gran Reserva” (Spain) must spend a minimum two years in barrel and three years in bottle.
In the New World, especially in the United States, winemakers are free to experiment. Thus a “California Chardonnay” can be made in an array of different styles. Labeling, however, is regulated. In most of the US, for instance:
  • To list a varietal name, the wine must be at least 75% of the varietal.
  • To list a specific AVA region on the label (e.g. Russian River Valley or Sonoma Coast), the wine must be sourced at least 85% from that region.
  • To list a vintage year, the wine must be 95% from that vintage.
OLD WORLD NEW WORLD
Wine Styles Wine styles are more specific because they are stylistically regulated, with less room for experimentation.
  • Generally speaking Old World wines are subtle and less fruity, and tend to emphasize more of the oak and aged characteristics of a wine.
Bound not to tradition but to experimentation, New World wines are made in an infinite variety of styles.
  • When compared to European wines, most “New World” wines (California wines in particular) are flavorful and fruit-forward, emphasizing the expression of the fruit characteristics.
OLD WORLD NEW WORLD
Winemaking Technique Tethered in centuries of tradition, European winemakers view winemaking as an art and tend to favor old-fashioned methods (or are required to use them).
  • They intervene in the growing process very little and the winemaking goal is to express regional terroir.
Free to experiment, winemakers view winemaking as a science and use new methods and technology freely.
  • Controlling the winemaking process is standard and the winemaking goal is to express the fruit within the region, not the region itself.
OLD WORLD NEW WORLD
Growing Regions Growing regions have generally been delineated, fixed and regulated for centuries. Growing regions are broad and flexible, in many cases still being established and tested.

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