Comparing Old World And New World Wines

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - May 20, 2009
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Hofer Zweigelt Rose: a real porch-pounder

Quite often people refer to wines as being “Old World.” The opposite, of course, is “New World.” So what’s the difference? It has to do with origin and style.

But are they really worlds apart?

Old World wines basically come from Europe. It is colloquially known as the Old World not only because its culture of fine wine is much older than others, but because the grape varieties known as vitis vinifera were originally found here. Grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, etc., had to be exported and transported from the Old World to the New World, and thus sprung the culture and industry of fine-wine production in those countries.

In the Americas, other species of native grapes were available, vitis berlandieri and riparia,but these grapes result in a distinctly flavored wine that is quite unlike the fine wines made from vinifera vines.

In the Old World, primarily Europe, the wines are named after the area they come from, not for the grape type with which the wine is made. Famous names such as Margaux, Chambertin, Montrachet, Rioja, Sherry, Barbaresco, Chianti, Port, Chateauneuf du Pape, Valpolicella, etc., are all named after where they come from, or the appellation.

The philosophy of the Old World is that the area or appellation the wine comes from is more important than the grape that is planted there. The logic behind it being that since each area is delimited, grape types restricted, soil types, winemaking techniques and aging are regimented, all of the resulting wines should share something in common. The French call this a terroir; we call it typicity.

For most people, this can be confusing and cumbersome. It is difficult to remember all the grapes that go into making Chateauneuf du Pape (13 altogether) or the blend of grapes that make a bottle of Chateau Margaux.

On the other hand, New World winemakers label the wines with varietals or the name of the predominant grape that goes into making the wine. Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, etc., are all indicated in plain lettering, making it easier for us to pick what wine we like to drink. There is no code to know what you are getting in the bottle. You know you’re getting a Chardonnay, be it from Napa Valley or Hunter Valley, when it says it on the label.

Old World wines also have their own particular flavor. Because Old World wines feature the area of production more prominently, it makes sense that these wines would also be earth-ier. They tend to exhibit minerality reminiscent of the soil types the vines are grown in. Unlike the New World, the Old World is not allowed to irrigate any of its vineyards, perhaps allowing the vine to concentrate more of the earthiness in the grapes rather than water. Generally, Old World wine areas are planted in more “marginal” climates as well, resulting in lower alcohol and higher acidity. These areas are generally cooler than the areas of plantation in the New World. Old World wines also can be less oaky than their New World counterparts, because most Old World winemakers realize that too much oak can obliterate the essence of their wine’s typicity.

These days it is becoming more difficult to tell the two worlds apart. Many New World winemakers are striving to make wines in the same fashion and vein as the Old World, and vice versa. The cross-pollination of philosophy and technique has created a hybrid style of wine that falls somewhere in between. But I am confident that there will be classicists in both worlds who will continue to produce wines that are recognizably Old or New World.

Recommendations: Hofer Zweigelt Rose ($16) Summer is on its way and this exotic dry rose from Austria is sure to quench your thirst. Flower petals and sweet berries waft from the glass, light and creamy on the palate. This is a real “porch pounder.”

2007 Domaine de Chanteleuserie Bourgeuil Allouettes ($14) This is just a downright fun-drinking Cabernet Franc that has class and deliciousness all the way through. It is soft with vibrant, juicy red-berry flavors that keep coming.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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