New World vs old World wines: a comparison
How does a New Zealand Pinot Noir compares to a Burgundian Pinot?
You may already have heard of the phrases Old World Wine and New World Wine. In this blog, I will aim to give you a good grasp of these different sectors. We will look at two ways to define them, followed by showing how they can help you in your wine choices, and finishing off with an interesting experiment to try out at home (no test tube or scientific know-how required).
In order to define these two titles we can first look into their Geography. In general, Old World wine refers to European. So if you pick up, for example, a Spanish Rioja, an Italian Primitivo, or a French Bordeaux, you can class this under the Old World wine banner.
These are all traditional wine making countries so it’s easy to think of them as old wine producers, but do not forget, that the UK is also Old World: something to remember when you’re sipping a Pinot Noir, Meunier, and/or Chardonnay based English Sparkling Wine.
On the other hand, New World wines generally signifies wine growing regions outside Europe. Examples here would include; California, New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile to name but a few. These have their own famous wines such as Argentinian Malbec and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. From this you may already be able to see whether you lean towards one or the other of these camps. Of course, no one is saying that you can’t like both!
Wine types and styles
Aside from by geography, it is also possible to distinguish New World and Old World wines in a general sense, by looking into their styles. For example, an Old World wine would often be expected to have a lighter body, lower alcohol levels, and less ripe fruit. New World wines in comparison would be generally deemed to have fuller bodies, higher alcohol content, and be fruitier.
For instance, think of a Pinot Noir made in Central Otago, New Zealand, and another Pinot from a traditional Burgundian appellation such as Gevrey-Chambertin or Nuits-St-George. The first one will have a ripe fruit character, with intense flavours of black cherry and plum and a relatively high alcoholic strength (even 14% abv), whereas typical Pinot Noir from Burgundy has fresher red fruit flavours, like cranberry and strawberry, lower alcohol levels (say 12% abv) and a more refreshing character.
Bear in mind, however, that this is a bit of a simplification. The Pinot Noir red by Stanlake Park in England, for instance, is made from a grape clone very well-adapted to our weather conditions, but that gives flavours of black fruit instead of red berries, therefore ending up more similar, from a flavour profile perspective, to a Central Otago Pinot than to Burgundy!
On a separate note, very often New World wine producing countries use longer periods of barrel ageing, and although ‘oaky’ wines are not popular anymore, generally speaking oak spices like vanilla, coconut or even coffee are more commonly found in wines from America or Australia. Another exception to the rule? Rioja wine! Made exclusively in the Rioja region in the north of Spain, these wines are traditionally oak aged for longer periods, so flavours like chocolate or sweet spices are not uncommon at all.
A great example of something in the middle is South Africa, for many considered as the ‘bridge’ between old winemaking countries and new styles. It’s clearly outside Europe so it couldn’t be part of the old wine regions, but wine is made very ‘European’ in style so experts say that, in a blind tasting, if it taste like European wine but it has riper fruit and higher alcohol levels, it might be a South African wine!
So how does this help you?
From these two points, we are able to see some useful distinctions. As a consumer, you can use these differences to inform you in your wine choices. For example, if you know that you prefer big, fruity reds, then it would be a wise choice to try options from California, Australia and other New World wine regions. If you prefer more delicate white wines then it would be a sage suggestion to look to countries in the Old World wine countries such as France or England.
You can also spice things up a bit with some wine experiments! A good one is to compare a Syrah from the French Rhône up against an Aussie Shiraz, for instance from Barossa Valley (the same grape but the first grown in an Old World Region, and the second in a New World country). This is one of my favourite match-ups, and I am sure you will notice quite a clear difference between the two – look for a more delicate, meaty and black-pepper spiced Syrah in Northern Rhône, and a bolder, much fruitier example in Australia.
What have we learnt?
Having read through this feature, you will now be able to place most wines that you come across into either the Old World Wine or the New World category. This will help you not only in your understanding of what you are drinking, but also in your wine choices.
There are too, lots of experiments like the Syrah/Shiraz or Pinot Noir comparison to be done . Let us know, in the comments, of any interesting match-ups that you try so we can all give them a go. Don’t stop tasting!