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Old World vs. New World wine styles

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Two of the most commonly heard, and misunderstood, terms in wine are Old World and New World. These terms are confusing because they can be used to describe either the place a wine comes from, or the style in which the wine is produced. Often these two match up, but more and more frequently they do not.

The Old World is the area of the Western world in which modern winemaking styles developed. France is the most dominant Old World winemaking country, with Italy and Spain close behind. Germany is also an Old World producer, as are Austria and Romania, although stylistically they are quite different from the others. Portugal has many things in common with France, Italy, and Spain, but the dominance of fortified wines (Port) in the country differentiates it.

In contrast, the New World is anywhere else wine is made in a Western mode, outside of the major European wine producers. Most notably this includes the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina. Ironically, it also includes countries in which wine has been produced far longer than in Europe – such as Israel and Iran.

Increasingly, the terms Old World and New World are used not to describe the country of a wine's origin, but the style in which it is made and the focus of the winemaker. This is becoming an important distinction, as rules that were once virtually universal are shifting, and many producers in France, Italy, and Spain are using New World techniques and philosophies, while producers in South Africa, California, and Oregon are returning to an Old World mode.

Oregon03The Old World philosophy holds up the ideal of terroir as trumping all other considerations. The soil in which vines grow, the weather of a specific vintage, and the legacy of the vines themselves are all thought to impart a distinct characteristic in the grapes. Most Old World wine regions have regulations about what grapes can be grown in which regions, and these rules are based on which grapes flourish best in that specific terroir, and which showcase it most clearly. Because of this philosophy, Old World winemakers try to minimize their impact on the finished product, preferring to let the terroir show through. This leads to more restrained, less fruit-forward wines, often with more mineral and earthy notes. Because most Old World climates are also much cooler, alcohol levels in Old World wines are generally significantly lower than in their New World counterparts.

In contrast, New World winemakers seek to put their own stamp on the wines they create. Two pinot noir wines from different producers in the same area may taste radically different. In the vineyard the use of modern irrigation techniques has had the largest impact. After harvest the use of fining, additions of secondary fermentation processes, blending of different grapes, and cutting edge science are all used to create the wine the winemaker wants to make. New World winemakers tend to see themselves more as artists, using the grapes as their tools to create a work of art that is distinctly their own. Hotter climates and New World tastes also lead to higher alcohol contents in general, and a tasting room culture has led to a drive towards wines that show off their fruit flavors more than their earthier, more solid structure.

Both styles have distinct advantages and disadvantages, and winemakers from around the globe are merging the two philosophies to create something entirely new.

 

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