In my journey toward becoming a Certified Sommelier, the distinction between Old World vs New World wine marked a pivotal point in my education. These terms weren't just labels; they were keys that unlocked the door to a deeper comprehension of why a wine looks, smells, and tastes as it does.
Yet, the world of wine is continuously evolving, and the lines between age-old conventions in the Old World and contemporary innovation in the New World get blurrier every day. And given the extreme interconnectedness of the world we live in today coupled with environmental factors such as climate change at play, gone are the days of assessing a wine simply based on where it's from.
However, the wine terms "Old World" and "New World" exist for a reason, and learning the most basic difference between the two serves as a fundamental building block in comprehending wine as a whole. From origin to flavor to labeling and more, these Old World vs New World wine designations remain instrumental in shaping our knowledge and appreciation of wine.
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Old World vs New World Wine: What's the Difference?
"New World" and "Old World" are terms commonly used in the wine industry to distinguish between wines produced in different regions of the world.
The Old World pertains to traditional winemaking regions in places such as Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. These regions have a long history of winemaking, dating back thousands of years.
The New World refers to wine-producing regions that have a shorter history of winemaking. Such regions include the Americas, Canada, and Oceania.
While there are numerous differentiators, Old World vs. New World wine primarily refers to:
- COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
- WINEMAKING REGULATIONS
- WINE LABELS
It's important to note that these four distinctions are not absolute as there are many exceptions within each. Globalization and increased communication have led to the extensive blending of winemaking practices between the two categories over time. Both Old World and New World wine regions continue to innovate and "break the rules" when it comes to the wines they make and how they label their bottles. Not to mention the fact that climate change has directly impacted the terroir of many regions around the world and the styles of wines being produced because of it. The list goes on!
Although there are no hard and fast rules for defining what they mean, the terms "New World" and "Old World" remain useful for discussing broad trends and characteristics in the wine world. Knowing the general differences between them is helpful in understanding wine at a fundamental level.
Old World vs New World Wine: Countries
A primary element that shapes the characteristics of a wine is its country of origin, a factor that infuses each wine with a distinct narrative of terroir and tradition. From historic beginnings to evolving techniques, there are a few key differences between New World and Old World wine countries.
Old World winemaking has a much longer history than New World winemaking, with the first wine grapes cultivated thousands of years ago. The Old World is where many renowned approaches to crafting wine originated, and it's also where wine quality standards were first created and put into practice.
New World winemaking, on the other hand, only began around the 16th century. Therefore, it does not have the same longstanding winemaking and regulation history.
CLIMATE AND TERROIR
A large number of Old World wine regions are located in cooler climates. In contrast, the majority of New World countries are situated in warmer climates. This difference in climate and terroir, a French word that refers to the unique combination of soil, climate, and geography that influences the character and quality of the wine, leads to different styles of wine and helps give each wine its unique features.
Old World wine regions are home to a wider variety of grape varieties than New World wine regions, with winemakers experimenting with indigenous grape varieties for centuries. Although new hybrid varietals and varietal crosses have been created in the New World, the New World still relies on Old World wine grapes for the majority of its wine production.
Old World winemakers typically employ traditional winemaking techniques, with strict regulations controlling both viticulture and viniculture practices. Such regulations are only beginning to appear in New World wine regions, however. Because of this, New World winemakers have the freedom to innovate and experiment with new techniques and winemaking styles. This difference, coupled with each wine region's unique terroir, can lead to drastically different flavors and styles of wine.
Old World, New World Wine Fusion: An Ever-Evolving Landscape
While geographical distinctions provide a starting point for understanding Old World vs New World wine, present-day winemaking continues to evolve. New regions emerge. Existing regions evolve. And winemakers from both realms continually exchange ideas, learn from each other, and inspire one another.
This dynamic interplay between wines of the Old World and wines of the New World ensures that each bottle of wine tells a unique story, whether it's rooted in centuries-old traditions, shaped by modern winemaking techniques, or beautifully combines the two.
Ancient World Wine Countries
Beyond the popular Old World wine-producing countries we all know and love today, winemaking around the world existed long before there was any modern record of it. Encompassing the birthplaces of wine, early evidence of winemaking appears in such countries as Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Georgia, Syria, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, and Cyprus, among others.
For example, archaeological evidence proves that winemaking in the country of Georgia dates back to 6,000 BC, with archaeologists even recently uncovering the first known winemaking equipment there! Ancient texts document winemaking in Israel as far back as the biblical book of Genesis, including a reference to Noah planting a vineyard after the Great Flood. Grapevine cultivation arrived in Greece around 2500 BC, with the Greeks responsible for spreading grapevine cultivation throughout much of Europe. And evidence of grape growing in Bulgaria goes back 3,000 years before the Ottoman Empire hindered its growth. But that's just the tip of the iceberg!
These Old World countries are where the art of winemaking truly began. The techniques and traditions developed in this part of the Old World traveled with explorers to other parts of the globe and undoubtedly shaped the evolution of winemaking across the globe. Today, a number of these ancient world wine countries are making a concerted effort to reintroduce their history to the rest of the world and to claim their rightful place as the pioneers of the craft.
Old World Wine Countries
Considered the cradle of wine civilization, the Old World is a treasure trove of both iconic and unique wine-producing countries. From the sun-drenched vineyards of France to the romantic landscapes of Italy to the steep hillsides of Germany, let's take a look at some of the most notable Old World winemaking countries.
Renowned for its elegance and refinement, France is synonymous with wine. Many of the winemaking traditions and techniques employed around the world today began in France, and French wine is considered by many as the benchmark by which all other wine is judged. From the graceful Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of Burgundy to the famous sparklings of Champagne to the regal red wine of Bordeaux, France is home to some of the most celebrated wines and wine regions in the world.
Of all the winemaking countries across the globe, Italy boasts the most grape varieties, appellations, and wine styles than any other. From the sparkling Proseccos of Veneto to the earthy Chiantis of Tuscany to the fruit-forward Nero d'Avolas of Sicily, the mosaic of Italy's wine regions offers a mindblowing array of flavors and styles that serve as a testament to its cultural richness.
With its deep-rooted traditions and more land dedicated to growing grapes than any other country in the world, Spain produces a large spectrum of wines that reflect the country's vibrancy. The Tempranillo-driven reds of Rioja, the fresh Albariños of Rías Baixas, and the complex fortified Sherries of Jerez are just a few that exemplify Spain's unique contributions to the world of wine.
A land where vine cultivation dates back to the ancient world, Germany is celebrated not only for its illustrious Riesling but also for an array of other captivating white wines. From the exquisite purity of Grüner Veltliner to the rich power of Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) to the mouthwatering effervescence of Sekt (sparking wine), the vine-covered landscapes of this Old World country produce wines that encapsulate the beauty of their surroundings and give them their famous vibrant acidity.
Although most recognized for its great fortified wines, Portugal is home to a diverse array of over 200 unique native grape varieties. Winemaking in Portugal predates the Greeks and Romans, with traditions that have stood the test of time. From the terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley to the rolling green hills of Vinho Verde to the sun-kissed slopes of Madeira, the distinctive wines of Portugal have enchanted palates across the globe for centuries.
But that's far from all of them! In addition to the ancient and Old World wine countries listed above, other Old World wine countries include Austria, England, Switzerland, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Russian Federation, Armenia, Ukraine, Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, and North Macedonia, among others.
New World Wine Countries
The New World is kind of like a younger sibling to the Old World, following in its footsteps while carving out its own unique identity at the same time. Although the New World doesn't have the same winemaking history or traditions as the Old World, both produce outstanding wine. They just have different life experiences!
From North America to South America to Oceania and beyond, here's an overview of some of the most well-known New World counterparts in the world.
From the iconic Cabernet Sauvignon of California to the cool-climate Pinot Noir of Oregon to the Riesling and sparkling wine of New York and beyond, the United States showcases its winemaking prowess across a diverse range of regions. While classic international varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah serve as the foundation of winemaking in America, many of the country's 50 states produce wines from hybrid grapes as well.
Primarily known for its bold, fruit-forward red wines, Australia boasts regions like Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, and Margaret River where Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon take center stage in expressions of power and complexity. But the beauty of Australian wine doesn't end with its bold reds. From the mouthwatering sparkling wines of Tasmania to the fresh Rieslings of Clare Valley to the elegant Pinot Noirs of Yarra Valley, Australia produces a myriad of high-quality wines.
The leading producer of wine in the Southern Hemisphere, Argentina is most famous for its glorious Malbecs, the high-altitude vineyards of Mendoza elevating Argentina to international acclaim. However, its distinctive, floral whites made from Torrontés also define the landscape of Argentinian wine, as does the country's dedication to quality winemaking.
Situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, Chile is one of the 10 largest wine-producing countries in the world. It produces vibrant, terroir-driven wines, with Carménère a shining star among its grape varieties.
The oldest of the New World wine regions, the stunning landscapes of South Africa yield a diverse range of wines, including its signature Pinotage and world-class Chenin Blanc. Although the winemaking history in South Africa has been fraught with economic and social challenges, the wines of South Africa reflect the country's blend of Old World tradition and New World innovation.
Nestled in the far reaches of the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand has emerged as a captivating star in the constellation of New World wines. From the sun-soaked vineyards of Marlborough to the rolling hills of Hawke's Bay to the cool-climate vineyards of Central Otago, New Zealand wines embody the purity of unspoiled landscapes and reflect the country's commitment to sustainable and organic practices.
A combination of Old World tradition and modern-day innovation, Brazil is one of the newest and most exciting wine regions on the scene today. Although the country has been making wine since the 1800s, efforts have only just begun to bring attention to it on a global scale. Drawing from winemaking techniques introduced by Italian colonists, Brazilian wine is rooted in the Old World yet has a distinctive New World personality at the same time. While Brazil produces many types of wine in a variety of styles, its stunning sparkling wines are particularly worthy of great celebration.
In addition to these notable places, other New World wine countries include Canada, Mexico, Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and China, among others.
Old World vs New World Wine: Taste
One of the greatest differences between Old World and New World wine manifests distinctly on your palate. The smell and taste of a wine, shaped by its terroir, traditions, and winemaker's artistry, can transport you across continents and throughout generations.
In Old World style wines, the essence of the land is entwined with centuries-old traditions, which directly impact their flavor. With generally higher acidity, lower alcohol content, lighter body, and lots of minerality and earthiness, the taste profiles of Old World wines tend to mirror the terroir. These wines often have a complex interplay of flavors aimed at showcasing terroir while highlighting varietal and tradition.
New World style wines, on the other hand, are oftentimes characterized by pronounced fruity flavors and fuller body. Because a lot of wine produced in the New World comes from warm regions where grapes ripen faster, they tend to have higher alcohol levels and lower acidity. And without strict laws in place to determine what grapes can be grown and where, winemakers have the freedom to experiment and innovate.
At the end of the day, personal preference often guides the choice between these two worlds. The allure of Old World wine styles lies in their eloquent homage to history and nuanced dance with terroir. New World wine styles, on the other hand, beckon with their unabashed embrace of innovation and bold flavors. Different places produce wines with different characteristics that cater to different tastes. So when it comes to Old World vs New World wine, finding the style of wine that resonates with your palate can prove a delicious journey through time and place!
Old World vs New World Wine: Winemaking Regulations
The divergence between New World and Old World regions is not only defined by geography and taste. It is also closely tied to the regulations that guide their viticulture and vinicultural practices.
The Old World, with its rich viticultural and vinicultural heritage, has a legacy of winemaking ordinances deeply rooted in tradition. These strict regulations have been honed and refined over centuries, resulting in a structured framework that governs everything from grape varieties and growing practices to production methods and aging requirements. Such rules ensure strict adherence to time-honored traditions, which aim to preserve the essence of the land and to provide continuity from one generation to the next.
In contrast, the New World exudes a sense of flexibility and experimentation when it comes to winemaking. Freed from the constraints of centuries-old traditions, New World regions embrace a more innovative and adaptive approach. While certain regulations do exist in some New World regions to guarantee quality and authenticity, there is often more room for creative interpretation. This allows New World winemakers to push boundaries, experiment with new techniques, and create wines that reflect their unique visions.
Old World Wine vs New World Wine: Labels
The label that adorns a bottle of wine is more than mere packaging – it essentially serves as a passport to different corners of the globe and offers insights into the wine's character, origin, and journey from the vineyard into your wine glass. By learning what to look for on an Old World vs New World wine label, you'll have a better sense of what to expect the next time you open a bottle of wine.
When it comes to Old World wine labels, it's all about place. Most emphasize the region of origin, often indicating the specific vineyard or appellation where the grapes are grown. This is because the Old World considers the region to be more important than the grape variety in determining the wine's style, quality, and taste.
However, such geographical indications don't just tell the story of place. They also provide cues about grape varieties, the aging process involved in making the wine, and expected aromas and flavors. However, such details are quite difficult for a wine enthusiast to interpret without a deeper understanding of wine.
New World wine labels take a different approach, placing less emphasis on the region and instead shining a spotlight on the grape variety (i.e. Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, etc.). Because New World wine regions don't have the same longstanding history that Old World wine regions have, place isn't quite as significant as variety. (Although this is changing as certain New World regions such as Napa Valley in California or the Finger Lakes in New York become known for particular nuances and undeniable identities!) Listing the variety on the wine label allows for much easier identification of the wine's flavor profile, and is particularly helpful for wine drinkers seeking specific taste experiences.
Old World vs New World Wine: The Wrap-Up
When it comes to Old World vs New World wine, one resounding truth remains evident: the boundaries between the two are fluid.
However, understanding the broad differences between these two categories helps in identifying what kind of wine you like, or what kind you don't like! Whether you prefer full-bodied wines with higher alcohol content or light-bodied wines with more acidity, grasping the key differences between Old World vs. New World wines can help you make more informed decisions when it comes to looking at a wine list or purchasing wine.
But again, there are no strict rules or rigid definitions that confine a wine to one category or another. And there is no one-size-fits-all description for what constitutes Old World vs New World wine. Instead, the beauty of wine lies in its diversity, the fusion of tradition and innovation, and the shared passion that unites winemakers and wine lovers across continents.
Allie Albanese is the founder and curator of Parched Around the World. Here she seeks to tell stories about the intersection of food, drinks, cultures, and traditions in places near and far.
Allie is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers and was named the Walter Clore Certified Sommelier Exam Scholar for being the top scorer in the state of New York. Allie is also a graduate of the International Culinary Center’s Intensive Sommelier Program, where she finished at the top of her class.
For the last 10 years, Allie has worked as a freelance journalist writing about wine, cocktails, food, and travel for various publications across the United States and abroad. While she doesn't play favorites when it comes to wine, pour her a glass of bubbly or an Italian red and you're guaranteed to uncork a smile!