If you’ve been around wine for a while, you’ve probably heard the terms Old World and New World thrown around quite a bit. However, these phrases embody a lot more than just the regional focus they imply. Not sure what we mean? Check out our breakdown, grab some contrasting bottles, and get ready to taste the differences for yourself.
Old World regions are winegrowing areas found in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. These include (but are not limited to) France, Italy, Spain, Hungary, Portugal, Germany, Lebanon, Croatia, Israel, and beyond.
New World regions are areas that have adopted winemaking practices from Old World regions to create their own industries. (In other words, basically everywhere else that isn’t Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East.) New World regions include all of North America, South America, Australia, South Africa, and more.
Old World wines tend to be lighter-bodied, lower in alcohol, have brighter acidity, and show more earth-driven flavors. New World wines are usually fuller-bodied, higher in alcohol, have lower acidity, and are much riper on the palate. Although this is a good place to start, there are many obvious exceptions – and things are beginning to change.
Why? First and foremost, climate change. As temperatures around the globe rise, wine regions worldwide are getting hotter, both in Old World and New World regions. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see Old World wines clocking in at relatively high ABVs (14%+) due to rising temperatures and increasing ripeness. (Check out Raul Perez’s La Vizcaina ‘El Rapolao’ 2017 to see what we mean.)
On the other hand, it’s just as common to find New World wines with lower ABVs and brighter acidity, as consumer/winemaker preferences continue to evolve. Vignerons in the New World are continuing to seek out higher-elevation growing sites, which inevitably leads to higher-acid fruit. Some of our favorite New World winemakers embodying this ‘Old World’ style of vinification include Arnot-Roberts, Pax Mahle, Evening Land, and Chacra.
To experience the classic differences for yourself, we recommend grabbing two textbook examples of the same grape variety from classic Old World and New World regions. Here are a few of our favorite side-by-sides that best illustrate the differences:
Olivier Merlin Mâcon Blanc ‘La Roche Vineuse’ 2017 (Old World) vs. Wyatt Chardonnay 2018 (New World)
Domaine Charles Audoin Bourgogne Rouge 2018 (Old World) vs. Presqu’ile Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County 2018 (New World)
Laporte Sancerre ‘Le Rochoy’ 2019 (Old World) vs. Zorzal Sauvignon Blanc Mendoza 2017 (New World)
Domaine de Galouchey VdF ‘Vin de Jardin’ 2016 (Old World) vs. No Fine Print Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (New World)
Winemaking styles also play a major role in the Old World vs. New World contrast, specifically with regards to oak usage. New oak is more commonly used in New World regions, whereas Old World regions tend to stick with neutral wood.
Another Old World vs. New World style to note is the way in which wines are labeled. Most Old World regions reference their wines by region (think Barolo, Sancerre, or Champagne), whereas New World wines are generally identified by grape variety.
Why It’s Important
In a sea of wine shop bottles and extensive restaurant lists, knowing the differences between Old World and New World regions is the first step to guiding yourself towards the bottle that you’re looking for. It’s also one of the first tools used to make preliminary deductions when blind tasting. When attempting to identify a mystery juice that finds its way into your glass, do as the pros do and assess for Old World vs. New World characteristics first.