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Old World’ or ‘New World Wines

Old World’ or ‘New World’ when talking about wines. What do these terms really mean? How did they originate? Do they matter?

It is common belief that Old World wines refer to wines from the Old World (specifically wine regions in countries like France, Italy and Spain) and that New World wines refer to wines from the USA, South America or Australia; essentially all wine producing countries outside of Europe.  This benchmark might have been true in the past but, nowadays, one can no longer rely on this simplistic classification.  Today, when we pit New World wines against Old World wines, we are actually comparing the wine styles and the wine making processes more than the wines’ place of origin.

Wine Styles of Old World Wines

What are the typical characteristics of Old World wine styles?  Compared to New World wines (i.e. wines that have New World wine styles), Old World wines tend to be less bold, less vibrant in color, more delicate, and more elegant.  They also tend to have higher acidity and better natural balance.  Old World wines also feature more of the characteristics of the grape varietals used and their Appellation or terroir.  In Old World wine styles, higher minerality is usual.  Wines of the Old World wine style, moreover, are typically made according to the traditional wine making guidelines of their region of origin.

Wine Styles of New World Wines

Wines that are considered to be New World wines are characterized by wine styles that are almost always bolder and more luscious than Old World wine styles.  They are often bursting with fruit aromas from the get go.  Typically, they also have higher alcohol content since, in the New World style of wine making, grapes are often left to ripen longer/ripen faster; this can be attributed to the warmer climate in New World wine regions.  New World wines, moreover, tend to have mid-to-light acidity levels.  The nose is also less delicate and sophisticated.

Regulatory Differences

Regulatory wise, a big difference between Old and New World wines lies in the laws governing how they are made. In the New World, very few restrictions exist, and winemakers are free to plant whatever grape varieties they wish and make the wine however they deem appropriate.

In contrast every designated Old World wine region (such as any French AOC, Italian DOC or DOCG, Spanish DO, etc.) has to adhere to a detailed set of rules that govern what can be planted, density of planting, training and pruning methods, minimum ripeness at harvest, maximum yields, winemaking techniques and use of oak. While these rules were established to ensure a minimum standard of quality.

Once again, remember the general rule for comparing New World and Old World wine styles.  Old World wines (i.e. wines exhibiting Old World wine styles) have lower alcohol content, are more delicate and are more terroir-driven than New World wines.  On the contrary, New World wines (i.e. wines exhibiting New World wine styles) are typically big, bold and fruity.  Furthermore, they have light to medium acidity and have higher alcohol content than Old World wines.