New World vs. Old World Wine

As I weave my way through the maze that is the wine world I often meet people who are lovers of EITHER “Old World” wine OR “New World” Wine. As I understand it there are two main distinctions between the “Old” & “New” world wine producing countries; history & style.

The first distinction is that “Old World” implies countries that have long traditions for wine production such as France, Italy, Germany & Spain. While “New World” locations, such as The US, Australia, New Zealand, South American countries (such as Chile & Argentina) and even Israel, have entered into the wine making fray within the last 20-50 years (or re-entered as the case is with Israel).

The other distinction between Old & New World, has to do with wine STYLE. Old world style wines tend to be less fruit forward, lower in alcohol, posses the capability for longer aging, and at times are not very approachable (read: drinkable) in their youth (as a result of overpowering tannins, high acidity, etc). While new world style wines are often fruit forward wines (grown in regions where the temperature/climate leads to ripe fruit), whose alcohol is higher (generally greater than 12-13%), ageability is questionable (if for no other reason than a lack of history to verify its age worthiness) yet are often more approachable in their youth.

SO, which is better???

Obviously I need to start by saying my oft heard line that “the best wine for you is a wine that you like”.

And further, my insinuation about “approachability” of the wine in its youth might give you an indication of how I feel – or at least used to feel. If a wine is not going to be ready to be drunk within the first few years after release what is so special about it? The statistics about people purchasing wine and drinking it within 1 or 2 days are simply amazing. Somewhere in excess of 90% of wine bought in this country is consumed within 24-48 hours of its being purchased. As such, the thought of producing wines that require many years before they soften and can be enjoyed is ludicrous.

But I bring up this topic today as I recently read an article about French wine titled “No More bad Vintages Thanks to Changes in Winemaking”. In essence, the article stated that modern winemaking techniques and a warmer climate is going to allow French producers of wine to put out more consistently good wine. I took it a step further in my understanding and believe that these upgraded winemaking techniques combined with the warmer weather will also lead to wines that are more approachable in their youth.

SO, is it possible that there is a convergence of old & new world taking place?

As I continue to drink wine and gain a better understanding for the SUBTLE differences between good and great wine (I am still not quite there) I better understand why many wine aficionados prefer the old world to new. Yes there is some snobbery to it. Sure it can be exciting (assuming you can afford it) to open a 10, 20 or even 30 year old bottle. OK, lower alcohol levels make it easier to enjoy with dinner.

But what i really think it comes down to is ELEGANCE & COMPLEXITY. When I speak of elegance I think of well balanced wines that have a soft mouth feel and no rough edges. And when I think of complexity I think of wines that evolve in the glass (and on the palate), showing everything from fruit and earth to Oak & minerality.

Yes, some new world wines posses this elegance & complexity. But it seems that as far as generalizations go, many new world wines are still primarily about fruit while old world wines are more about earth.

Interestingly enough, I have found that many old world producers are taking advantage of modern winemaking capabilities to produce wines with more fruit flavors and aromas. While many new world producers are seeking ways to make wines that are less fruit forward and more well rounded.

At the end of the day there is no answer to the question of which is better. BUT, I do believe that this convergence of styles is a good thing and I’m excited to be in a position to follow the progression of wine, both from the new as well as the old world.

Happy New & Old World Wine Tasting!


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