What is the Difference between Old World and New World Wines?
By Laura Fagan Published February 2022
For anyone who loves to sample and savor wine – you’ve likely come across the terms Old and New World when either shopping for bottles, sipping or sharing in conversation about wine. Although the terms sound like a lead into a geography lesson, the classification of New World wines and Old World wines differentiate more than just the wine’s country of origin. Folded into these terms are different labeling and winemaking practices as well as distinct tastes and flavors. Two of our ABC wine experts, Nathan Dale and Paul Quaglini, break down the basic differences between New and Old World wines, the regions and how to use the information to lead you to fantastic labels.
Old World vs New World Wine – The Basics
With so many different wine varietals, vintages, categories and styles – it is understandable to feel a bit lost as a consumer. Therefore, it is best to start with the basics. Paul suggests viewing the terms Old World wine and New World wine through a geographical lens as a foundation. Old World wines, primarily, are from Europe – think France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Portugal, as well as parts of the Middle East, the Balkans and Georgia. Any other winemaking country is then classified as New World. For example - the Americas, including the United States, Chile, Argentina and Canada, in addition to, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Nathan adds that the differentiation stems from time and tradition. The Old World winemaking countries have thousands of years of winemaking history and heritage, whereas, New World winemaking countries have only been producing for a few centuries by comparison. All of the classic grape varietals that dominate the market - like cabernet, merlot and chardonnay were carried from Europe across oceans and continents to other prospective winemaking regions. Beyond borders, the terms also help to differentiate methods of winemaking, technique, styles and labeling practices.
The Difference in Labeling
“Old World wines are almost always labeled with a geographic place,” Paul shares. This means that the varietal of grape may not be found on the label – you would have to, instead, know which grapes are being grown in which Old World regions. For wine experts, that is a breeze – but, for everyday wine admirers - not so much. For example, François Martenot Mercury is a pinot noir, but by simply looking at the label you wouldn’t be able to tell unless you knew that the only allowable red grape to be grown in the village of Mercury, in the Burgundy region of France, is pinot noir. The takeaway being – Old World labels can be a bit obscure unless you are very fluent with regional growing permittances. On the other hand, New World wine labels almost always include the grape varietal, Nathan compares. New World labels are more transparent when it comes to what is in the bottle, as seen with Jackie, a Sonoma Coast pinot noir. The label includes three lines of text. The brand, the region and then the grape.
If you are interested in learning more about how to read a wine label – watch our other YouTube video which digs into deciphering all the information.
The Difference in Winemaking Practices
When it comes to New and Old World winemaking practices – think rigid versus relaxed. Paul explains that almost all elements of winemaking in Old World regions are strictly regulated. From the ground to the grape – the vine spacing, irrigation practices, types of trellising, and harvesting methods are all bound by law. Once the grapes are off the vine, more regulations control vinification – the amount of oak aging, aging periods, types of fermentation and styles of vessels, and bottling and labeling methods. In contrast, with New World winemaking there are far fewer regulations and winemakers have more freedom to create styles and innovate outside of Old World practices. “It’s not to say one [Old or New World wine] is better than the other, they are both good,” Paul clarifies.
The Difference in Flavor Profiles
The final difference between New and Old World wine is the flavor profile. Generally, Old World countries are farther from the equator. This means that European winegrowing regions are often, “…a bit cooler than their New World counterparts,” Paul explains. These wines tend to express with higher acidity, lower alcohol and can be described as gentler in nature than New World wines - even of the same varietal. New World wines will typically be brighter and bolder in flavor. Nathan emphasizes that Old and New World wines can be made from the same grape, but when grown in different places, can taste entirely different. Variations in terroir combined with different farming and winemaking practices all become factors in a wine’s flavor profile, “…even though it is the same fruit,” Nathan adds.
Now, you can use the learned differences between Old and New World wines to help you shop and select bottles that you will enjoy.