Have you ever heard wine described as “old world” or “new world”? Knowing what those descriptions mean can really help your wine choices!
The “old world” of wine refers to the countries with the longest winemaking histories, or to be more specific, Europe. France, Italy, Spain, and Germany are the most important regions here. But the term “old world” is not only about history. It implies a philosophy of winemaking as well as a stylistic influence. The winemaking philosophy of the old world places the top priority on where the grapes are grown, and how they are (or should be) an expression of their microclimate. The French call this terroir. This is why most European wines are labeled by region rather than by grape (Germany being the exception). Old world wines often have aromas/flavors which are more earthy and less fruity.
The “new world” of wine refers to everything that isn’t part of the old world. This includes North America, South America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, among others. In the new world of wine the grape is the top priority, so most wines are labeled with the grape varieties they contain.
How This Can Impact Your Wine Selections
Twice this past week I was having dinner with a group of friends, and we opened 2 bottles of wine. Coincidentally, both times we opened an old world red wine first, followed by a new world red. Both times the old world wine tasted great, with some smoky, herbal, and spicy aromas in addition to the fruit characteristics. Both times the new world reds were wines I had had before and liked. But when we drank them after the old world wines, they were so much fruitier by comparison that they tasted like juice – almost cloyingly sweet, although the wines were dry.
The lesson I learned is that if I’m planning to open more than 1 bottle of wine in an evening, I need to think carefully about how the wines will impact each other, and in which order to drink them. Just as drinking the old world reds first made the new world reds taste like juice, I suspect starting with a new world red and then moving to the old world could make the old world wine taste sour, bitter, or musty. Of course, there is so much variation within these “old world” and “new world” styles that it depends on the specific wines you’re drinking. But I think from now on I will play it safe and stick with all old world or all new world wines in 1 evening.