Anyone who enjoys a nice glass of wine will likely have heard the various terms used to describe each bottle, such as “aroma”, “bouquet”, and “body”. While each wine has its own unique taste, they can all be generally split into two categories: “new world” and “old world”. Here, we’ll look at what those two terms actually mean, and whether being produced in the “old” or “new” worlds has any effect on whether a wine is a “fine wine” or not.
“Old world” refers to traditional wine-making countries
Traditionally, wine was produced in a few select regions around the world. Countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Germany—which have been producing wine for thousands of years—are all part of the old world.
Old world wines are named after the region in which they are made. Popular examples include Champagne, Brunello and Bordeaux—which, as the London Wine Cellar’s fine wine page makes clear, actually houses several sub-regions.
Generally, old world wines are lighter-bodied, with a lower alcohol content than new world wines (though there are some exceptions). This is due to the fact that many old world wine countries are European, which means they have much cooler climates than new world areas like Australia, California, South Africa, and Chile.
Old world wineries are also heavily regulated, and vineyards must follow careful winemaking guidelines. This is because there is a heritage behind old world wines, which many drinkers appreciate. This heritage includes everything from the grapes picked for each wine, to the way it has been fermented and matured.
Most people know that wine is matured in oak barrels, and while this material was first used because of the its flexibility, Roman winemakers soon realised that the barrels added new qualities to the wine. Contact with the oak wood made the wine smoother, and in some cases improved the taste.
As the practice of using oak barrels for transportation continued, wine merchants found that the longer the wine was left inside, the more the final taste was affected, and the old world tradition of leaving wine to mature in oak barrels was born.
“New world” wine is open to more experimentation
By comparison, new world wine has much more experimentation involved. As they are less focused on following traditional methods, new world vineyard owners have more of an entrepreneurial spirit and dramatically varied practices. Regions that have become famous for their winemaking in recent years include California, New Zealand, South Africa, and Argentina.
According to Wine Grenade, new world winemakers cater to the fact that repeat consumers are more likely to drink their product within hours or days of purchase, so they want a predictable flavour. In order to maintain a consistent quality, makers of new world wines rely on certain techniques to control the variables and conditions in which the grapes grow. These new world winemakers can even adopt little cheats to help add to the flavour, without using old world wine techniques, such as using oak chips, staves, or cubes. Maturing wine in an oak barrel can be very expensive, so some winemakers use small pieces of oak instead to give their wine the oak-aged flavour.
New world wine also generally has a higher alcohol level, thanks to the warmer growing conditions for the grapes. These sweeter grapes mature and ripen quickly in the heat, and more sugar is used in the fermentation process to produce a higher alcohol level in the finished product.
As old world wine-making is heavily regulated with traditional rules, the information printed on the label can get confusing. Wines are labeled by region, rather than by which grape was used. Just from looking at the label on a bottle, casual drinkers may not know that Chablis wine comes from the Chardonnay grape, or that Sancerre is produced from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. New world wines, however, include the grape information on the label, so customers know what wine they’re choosing, and where it has come from.
New world wine is gaining popularity
New world wines are making more of an impact on the world, and many tourists head to “new world” countries to take part in wine tours and visit the many vineyards available. Even in 2017, New Zealand wine tourism figures soured, and research showed that one in four visitors went to a vineyard during their stay. Paired with the hot climate in these countries, it’s no wonder that tourists would include a wine-tasting or vineyard tour during their holidays, and many wine enthusiasts are even taking part in set excursions to visit as many vineyards as they can.
Encouraging tourism to the old world regions is much more difficult. Many of the older vineyards in old world wine countries still deal exclusively through wine merchants, making it difficult to get hold of the wine even if you go directly to the winery. This could be another reason more wine enthusiasts choose to visit new world vineyards, as they are able to buy directly from the wineries.
While it was fashionable to prefer an old world wine once upon a time, it’s no longer important. Old world wines hold a tradition and history, and often take much longer to produce; new world wines, however, provide a fruitier taste, and technological advances have meant that many traditional characteristics, such as oak maturing, can be included in new world wines in a much shorter time frame.
For wine drinkers, if you’ve found a wine you like, it shouldn’t matter how it was produced.