What are “Old World Wines or New World Wines?”
People often talk about old and new world as both a classification and a style; its helpful to know what people mean. The best and easiest explanation of Old World vs New World wine was told to me by a wine salesperson in Sonoma.
“Old World is everything in the soil. New World is everything above the soil.”
Essentially “old world” is Europe and “new world” is everything else. Once you start reading more about it and discover South Africa has been making wine since the 1600’s and almost all of Europe is making wine now, some starting fairly recently, it can seem a little confusing but just stick to the simple rule that “old world” refers to Europe and “new world” is everything else.
As for flavor profile, it’s hard to describe all wines from a region with the same adjectives. Over and over again I hear people say they like new world wines, “because they are more fruit forward.” This means that when you smell and taste the wine, the first descriptors that come to your mind are fruit and could be anything from boysenberry all the way to grapefruit. On the contrary, people often say they like old world, “because they are earthy, rustic, and musty wines.” This doesn’t mean that old world wines are lacking fruit or new world wines are missing earthy notes. It merely means that fruit or earth are their most prominent characteristic.
The explanation I was given has painted a pretty picture in my head where the sun is shining, there are rolling hills, a red clay type soil, a picket fence and perfectly placed oak tree sitting in the center surrounded by perfect rows of vines. Anyway, he said that old world wines are everything below the soil and new world wines are everything above it. So, old world wines take everything from the earth, soil, minerality, dirt, fossils etc and those characteristic will show through in the wine. Many of these wines let the terrior make the wines. Terrior according to Wikipdia “is the special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place bestow upon particular produce such as wine, coffee or tea. Agricultural sites in the same region share similar soil, weather conditions, and farming techniques, which all contribute to the unique qualities of the crop. It can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place,” which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product.” New world wines are everything above the earth, the sun, the irrigation, modern technology, the wine maker. Since the new world has started making wine more recently then then old world, there is more modern techniques that can be used. As a result, we borrow this word in English since there is no direct translation and in French there is no word for wine maker. They have something called a vigneron or someone who cultivates a vineyard since they place less importance on the wine maker and more on the terrior.
Thus, old and new world wines have very different flavor profiles. I love drinking wines from all over; there is a perfect wine for every occasion. Often I like old world wines with food and new world wines without, but that isn’t even always true. I prefer drinking whites during the day as opposed to reds, but again there are plenty of exceptions. I think the key is to be able to categorize wines so you can have a better idea of what you like and why. Being able to articulate descriptors in order to get help from your server at a restaurant, someone at a wine shop or being at a friends house can enhance the occasion where the wine will be consumed. The most important part is liking the wine so whatever your preference may be, that is the right choice.