Old vs New World Wine Explained: Which is Considered Better?

With the constant debate over old vs new world wine, it may be hard for customers to simply find vineyards where the differences are explained, let alone truly showcased to their full potential. But Sosie Wines took a different approach: combining old and new world wines into one.

Sosie Wines is located in the heart of San Francisco, California, and joins many wineries that are increasingly founded professionals who used to work in technology. Yet, rather than embrace California wines and American winemaking tactics, Scott MacFiggen and his wife, Regina Bustamante decided instead to look to practices in Europe.

In particular, Regina first became captivated by traditional, Old World French wines and everything that went into the production process.

But at the same time, she was fascinated by other winemaking practices as well. Born in Brazil and invested in California, Regina did not simply want to exclusively adopt Old World techniques but borrow from them.

In the Sosie Wine’s company mission statement, the couple lays out the characteristics they wanted from their wine: relatively low alcohol, high acidity, notes of oak, and complex enough to exhibit layered notes. To add to it, both Regina and Scott were committed to producing wine in small batches with as little interference as possible.

The problem? Neither Old or New World techniques fully encompass all of these qualities. So the couple set out to combine them in order to place a unique and signature stamp on their wines.

But what are the differences between New vs Old World wine, and is one superior over the other? In this article, your common questions will be explained so you can make the most informed decision possible.

Is there a label on wine bottles to distinguish

New vs Old World wine?

The first difficulty you’ll run into is that wine bottles don’t necessarily include Old or New World on their labels. That’s because the best way to tell if a wine is New or Old World from is from its country of origin.

Because of this, wines that are produced from grapes from many locations are not always solidly a New or Old World wine. Instead, we use the term New and Old World to distinguish specific terroir wines, where they are from, and subsequently, what characteristics they exhibit.

Is a specific variety, such as Merlot, solidly New or Old World in all instances? 

Not at all. In fact, one reason it’s important to discuss New vs Old World wine is that especially the most popular varieties–such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Airen, Tempranillo, Chardonnay, and Syrah–tend to be grown and produced into wine in different geographic regions.

For instance, Cabernet Sauvignon grown in France is not the same as Cabernet Sauvignon grew and produced in Washington State or Australia.

Despite being geographically different, why does it matter if a wine is New vs Old World? The main reason we’re interested in New vs Old World wine comes down to a concept of terroir.

Terroir refers to the environmental characteristics which impact how a certain crop grows. General climate, daylight, growing seasons, precipitation, and even other factors such as soil type all play key roles not only in how crops are grown but even what can be grown.

This principle, often applied to farm, of course, is important in winemaking as well. Certain regions specialize in certain grapes in part because of history, but more so because grapes thrive in different climates and soils.

But there is also a wide variety of grapes, especially the most popular that can, in fact, thrive in different climates. However, those geographic regions change the some of the most important characteristics of wine that will be produced.

What do terms Old and New World refer to? 

The terms Old and New World are situated not only in winemaking but actually historically terms, as far back as the sixteenth century, when European explorers first discovered the Americas, which they termed the ‘New World’.

The terms New vs Old World actually are used in three major ways, all to distinguish differences existing between geographical regions:

  • Historically, New World references the discovering of non-European nations by explorers from Europe. Most cite the journey of Christopher Columbus from Spain, as well as other famous explorers from the same time period. While there is no evidence that Columbus may in fact not have been the first to discover the New World, the term has been inevitably linked to him and the drove of explorers attempting to discover previously unchartered sections of the world.
  • From a biological perspective, certain animal and plant species are often distinguished as New vs Old World. It’s a term you’ll find most often in taxology.
  • In agriculture, New vs Old World describes not only different crops, but also different methods, history, and cultivation techniques between New vs Old World crops. Wheat, lentils, peas, and barley are considered Old World crops, while tomatoes, avocados, corn, and squash are termed New World crops.

And of course, in winemaking, New vs Old World refers to different geographical locations for both grape growing and wine production.

Is Old World or New World wine considered superior?

While the term Old World may evoke ideas of tradition and practice, the truth is neither Old nor New World wine is inherently superior over one another. Rather, it’s best to think of these wines in terms of personal preference. Mostly, the debate centers around if New World or Old World wine is more suited for certain wine varieties.

What are the main differences between New vs Old world wine, and why should I care? 

Now let’s take a close look at the main differences between New vs Old World wine. Not only do these wines come from different geographic regions, but they will also exhibit differences in levels of tannins, acidity, body, cultivation techniques, and even flavor notes and best food pairings.

Learning about New vs Old World wine is one of the best things you can do in terms of educating yourself on finding the best wine possible for your personal preferences.

Where is Old vs New World wine from?

Since the New World is a term adopted by European explorers, it is not all that difficult to guess the geographical locations of Old vs New World wine:

Old World wine comes from both European and Middle Eastern countries, such as Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Israel, Greece, Switzerland, Israel, Portugal, Austria, and Romania, and also parts of North Africa, among others.

New World wine comes from not only the United States but also Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, India, China, among others–in essence, anything not located in the regions we have already discussed.

What’s an immediate consideration of the difference between harvesting grapes for Old vs New World wine?

The immediate considerations are a result of differences in terroir, which includes differing soil, climate, and weather patterns. Even before the wine is produced, considerations are made.

In general, New World grapes tend to ripen more quickly, and are riper when finally picked, due to the warmer climate

Old World grapes have shorter harvesting seasons and tend to be picked earlier than New World grapes. Rain and humidity are more common factors as well

Overall, there are less regulations for the process of producing New vs Old World wine.

What role do regulations play for Old vs New World wine, and why does it matter?

The process of winemaking for most Old World wine is steeped in tradition, while New World wines are largely made in processes by discretion of the sommelier.

Old World wine is more focused on the philosophy of terroir. That means that wine is produced from grapes from a certain region, and will exhibit characteristics specific to a certain location, as a result of soil, climate and environment. Indeed, there are regulations on how certain wines can be labeled in Europe, such as Champagne required to come from Champagne, France.

New World wine commonly may be produced from grapes from different regions. There is far less in terms of regulation overall, and there is less in terms of distinct flavors representing specific regions.

Regulations rule how Old World wine is made, especially in Europe. Regulations in certain areas include:

  1. What grapes are planted, and where
  2. The percent ABV a wine can have
  3. How wine is made;
  4. Other quality control measures

By contrast, New World wine has variable ABV levels, can come from grapes planted in a variety of regions, and can, and often does, incorporate new methods of winemaking

What are the specific variations on winemaking are there between Old vs New World wine?

Old World wine, as we have said, is steeped in tradition and more bound to regulations, while New World winemakers are largely free to adopt new techniques.

Old World wine tends to be aged for longer. In the case of Barolo and Barbaresco grapes, for instance, grapes macerate for up to fifty days, then are aged in oak. While some modern techniques have been introduced for Old World wine, the process as a whole tends to be more streamlined and consistent.

New World wine tends to be much more young, and if aged, aged for shorter periods of time, and often in French oak. You’ll find a variety of methods, more youthful wine, and less consistency for a certain variety in terms of characteristics.

Is there a difference in the way Old vs New World wine is labeled?

Due to the differences of both regulation and philosophy of winemaking, Old World wine tends to be first and foremost labeled by the region it comes from, while New World wine is labeled first and foremost by the variety (for example, Merlot) and the region secondarily. The labeling is under fairly stringent regulations in many European nations; New World labels tend not to be.

What is the alcohol content of New vs Old World wine?

Warmer climates result in higher levels of alcohol. As a whole, New World wines tend to have slightly higher ABV than Old World wine.

What about levels of acidity?

Higher temperatures result in softer acidity because the grapes are riper. As such, Old World wine is higher in acidity, while New World wine tends to exhibit soft to low levels of acidity. New World wines, because the grapes are riper, also contains higher levels of sugar.

Is there a difference in wine body between Old vs New World wine?

You may be surprised to learn that how full-bodied wine is also is impacted by whether it is an Old or New World wine. Old World wine tends to be lighter in the body due to cooler temperatures, compared with the same variety of a New World origin.

What about levels of tannins?

You’ll find that Old World wines tend to exhibit for structure because they exhibit higher levels of tannins; they also exhibit more astringency and tend to be a bit stronger than New World wines.

How does the flavor profile differ?

No matter what specific variety of wine you’re interested in, there are some consistent patterns in terms of flavor and aroma notes specific to Old vs New World wine.

Old World wine tends to be more earthy and elegant, with mineral touches. However, they also will exhibit flavors more particular to the grape varieties themselves. Aging, while common, does not have as strong of a flavor.

New World wine tends to instead be quite fruit-forward and in some ways, more approachable. Though often young, when aged, French oak provides toasted buttery and vanilla notes. Though more fruity than Old World wine, New World wine tends to be less characteristic of a specific grape variety. New World wines are described as more rounded.

Can you summarize the differences between Old vs New World wine? 

While this may seem like an overload of information in some ways, in other ways, they are fairly simple. Let’s take a look at some of the most important characteristics of Old vs New World wine:

Old World Wine

  • Is held to stricter regulations in terms of quality, grape variety, labeling, and aging
  • Is lighter in body and more acidic
  • Is more astringent, from higher levels of tannins, but lower in alcohol
  • Tends to be more distinct
  • Is more commonly aged
  • Exhibits earthy and mineral tones
  • Comes from Europe, Middle East, and Northern Africa

New World Wine

  • Is not as specific to terroir or region
  • Is fuller in body and lower in acidity
  • Is fruit forward
  • Is drunk young, but when aged, has soft vanilla and buttery notes
  • Is higher in alcohol and more rounded

So, is Old or New World better?

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, Old or New World wine is not necessarily superior over one another. While Old World wine is steeped in tradition, New World wine, and the ability to innovate, makes for varieties that tend to be more fruity and excellent for anyone who does not like the more strong or astringent side of wine.

There certainly are advantages and disadvantages to New vs Old World wine, on both sides. What it comes does to is a matter of personal preference.

 If you prefer more fruity wine, you may like New World wine more; distinction, complexity and bright acidity is more common among Old World wine.

Do you have any suggestions for Old and New World wine I can try?

Since Old and New World wine quite literally encompasses wine as a whole, it’s hard to recommend certain wines to represent Old vs New World.

That said, if you are completely new to wine, it might be best to go with the most popular or classic options, which include:

For Old World, try:

    • Champagne from France, such as Taittinger Brut La Francaise. This may be a non-vintage option, but this more affordable Champagne still has classic notes, with acidic but pleasing lemon and apple, minerality, and classic carbonation.
    • Rioja from Spain, such as 2010 Marques de Murrieta Rioja Gran Reserva. Cherries, cedar, and darker dried fruit, such as raisins and plums are accompanied by subtle spices and an elegant finish with mineral touches.
    • Barbera from Italy, such as Vietti Barbera d’Alba Scarrone 2016. Described as rich and nuanced, this aged wine has layers of floral, citrus and spice, with a medium-full body that tastes fuller despite signature acidity. Ripe dark berries make for a distinct taste.

For New World, try:

    • Chardonnay from California, such as ZD Chardonnay California 2016. Chardonnay is highly popular as a wine choice in California, and this is an example of a flavorful, fruit-forward rendition with proper balance.
    • Cabernet Sauvignon from California, such as Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. Described as elegant, with a full-body, grapes are sourced from three smaller scale vineyards and wine is produced with care. Flavor notes include blackcurrants and surprising touches similar to espresso and chocolate.
    • Shiraz from Australia, such as Two Hands Lily’s Garden Shiraz 2016. Blueberry, plum, mulberry, with hints of pepper and lavender, make for a more layered, and complex but pleasing wine.

Erin Jamieson

Erin Jamieson brings the latest information to you on wine flavors and types so you can enjoy your next glass to the fullest. In the past, she covered wine selections for weddings and engagement parties. She also previously worked with a private chef company to suggest the perfect wine pairings and believes there is a flavor for every occasion. Erin Jamieson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Miami University of Ohio.

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