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Old World vs. New World : What’s the Difference?

April 17th, 2008 · No Comments · The Wine Press

By Dave Solzman, owner, Delius Restaurant
What are the major differences between “old world” and “new world” wines? Wine-producing countries can be broken into two major categories: old world, such as France, Spain, Italy, Germany and a handful of other European countries; and new world, which includes countries from both North America and South America as well as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The difference between the two is evident both by looking at their respective labels and by the very different flavors that they possess, even when made from the same kind of grapes.
The labels of most old world wines will generally tell you where the wine was made and who made it. This is the information that is most important when you consider that in old world countries, wine is meant to accompany food. In these countries, wine and food have been produced and consumed side by side for centuries to the point that they have achieved an almost symbiotic relationship. For the inhabitants of these ancient wine regions, to have one without the other would make the experience incomplete.
In new world countries, labels tend to tell you what kinds of grapes were used to make the wine. This is because new world wine regions are not so heavily steeped in tradition and strictly regulated by the government as the old world regions are. When “Burgundy” is seen on the label of a red wine bottle, it is immediately known that the wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir. If “Napa Valley” appears on a label, the wine could be made from any kind of grapes that the winemaker wishes to use. Unless you see words like “Cabernet Sauvignon” or “Chardonnay,” there is literally no way to know what kind of wine you have in the bottle.
The difference in flavor of old and new world wines can be summed up with the following generalizations. New world wines tend to be “fruit forward.” This means that the flavors of various fruits that are present tend to be the dominating flavors. Other “earthy” flavors, if they are present, tend to be more background or secondary flavors. Old world wines tend to be made so in tune with the location of their origin that the predominant taste characteristics have earthy qualities above all else.
Again, using more generalizations, it is often said that old world wines are food friendly and new world wines are great all by themselves as cocktails. Please keep in mind, if these rules of thumb were 100% true, it would take much of the mystery out of wine. Also, the gap between the two “worlds” of wine is shrinking on a daily basis as winemakers on both sides strive to emulate those on the other and an ever savvier wine-drinking public eagerly searches the wine-making world for new offerings.
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This monthly column is written alternately by Dave Solzman of Delius Restaurant and Randy Kemner of The Wine Country (both located in Signal Hill). These wining and dining experts will share this column to educate, enlighten and entertain the readers of the Signal Tribune.

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