It seems that no matter where you go there are two primary classes of thinking. You’ve got the group who resists all things new, who’ve decided that the old ways and old things and old mindset is the best. Then, you’ve got the new, progressive thinkers who readily embrace and excitedly adhere to new ways, new products, and new mindsets. Of course, you’ve got a minor group that won’t embrace either mentality, but who assert that there are some aspects that don’t change at all over time because they are inherently perfect.
While it would seem royal to deem wine as fit for this minor group of inherently perfect items, it cannot be placed into this group. In fact, there is quite a controversy between old world wines and new world wines and their values in flavor and quality. Meanwhile, you sit there, like I once did, scratching your head in bewilderment “Old world wine? New world wine? Isn’t all wine the same?”
In one respect, all wine is the same–it comes from fermented fruit (not even always grapes), but outside of that, there are a lot factors that give each wine its own distinct qualities. Two of these factors create the distinction between old world and new world wines: location and winemaking philosophy.
Old World Wines
Old world wines are primarily made in Europe and regions of land that surround the Mediterranean Sea (the Mediterranean Basin) like North Africa or the Near East. These growing regions have well-established vine systems that have been growing and adapting to the geographical regions.
Old world wines are actually grown by winemakers with those philosophies in mind: tradition and terroir. Tradition, when it comes to growing wines, refers specifically to the variables (such as trellising, harvesting, etc.) that have been tested over time in different wine regions to find the methods of each variable that produce the best wine for the environment of a specific region.
Terroir has to do more with the environment including variables such as soil, climate, and topography. Winemakers that follow the old world philosophy of wine sometimes attempt to mimic the terroir of a desired wine in order to produce a similar one in a different region.
Another difference between old world wine and new world wine is found in the vineyard and the placement of the vines. Old world wines have a high vine density, which means that they are planted closer together. Most of these vines are planted about 3 feet apart, designed for manual pruning and harvesting.
During the fermentation process, old world wines undergo higher temperatures and then macerate (getting the color and flavors and mouthfeel from the grape skins) for a longer period of time than new world wines.
Old world wines are also, interestingly, labeled by region of growth (like Bordeaux for example).
New World Wines
Contrary to old world wines, new world wines are not made in Europe and the Mediterranean Basin. Some of the most well-known wine growing regions for the new world style include the US, South Africa, Argentina, Australia, Chile, and Canada. Their vine and root systems are often a lot younger than old world vines and root systems, and haven’t tested as many growing variables to determine the “best” variables for the “best” wine from their regions.
New world wines, instead, are grown with their philosophies focusing on the influence of the winemaker and science. These wine growers are more open to experimenting with different scientific advancement during the winemaking process. Because of their openness to scientific advancement, the rows of grapevines are usually spaced about 12 feet apart with 8 feet between the vines with the purpose of creating ease during the harvesting and pruning period with new technology.
New world wines are generally produced from grapes grown in hotter climates. The result is a softer wine that matures much earlier than the old world wines. Other characteristics of new world wines include a higher alcohol content and a more full-bodied feel.
Where old world wines are named by region, new world wines are labeled by varietal. You may even see mixed varietals labeled on the front of a particular bottle of wine–a trait specific to new world wines.
Which Wine is Right for You?
One of these winemaking philosophies might speak to your mind set more than the other, but realistically, you can’t judge a wine by the philosophy in which it was produced. Wine is created for enjoyment, so rather than judging wine by its growth region or philosophy, let your five senses judge a few bottles of wine to see which style speaks to your flavor receptors. It’s the one method guaranteed to always give you a wine that you like.