Many wine lists categorize wine into Old World and New World, the second generally more affordable than the first.
But what do the terms really mean? Are Old World wines more sophisticated and elegant than New World vintages? Are they better?
There’s no simple answer. Both can be superb. Both can be disappointing.
The term New World is used to describe the colonies resulting from West European exploration and describe regions relatively new to wine production. They include the United States, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina. In recent decades, China, Canada, India and other countries have been added.
New World winemakers are generally known for their willingness to push boundaries. They also tend to use modern technology to improve wine quality and efficiency of commercial production.
“Nature is generally regarded as the determining, guiding force. In much of the New World, however, it may be regarded with suspicion, as an enemy to be subdued, controlled, and mastered in all its detail, thanks to the insights provided by science,” Jancis Robinson, one of the world’s most influential wine critics, writes in “The Oxford Companion to Wine.”
New World winemakers often focus on expressing the quality of fruit not the geography or terroir, so these wines are described as “fruit driven.”
In the New World, a single grape variety is often used so wines taste simple and direct. Compared with many Old World wines, New World wines don’t have the same aging potential. Some labeled ready-to-drink — there’s nothing wrong with that.
Old World wines are made in Europe, notably in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Germany.
The term also reflects the philosophy of “respecting terroir” to reflect the geography of the vineyard, so the wine cannot be replicated elsewhere.
Winemakers prefer blending varieties to create more complexity and balance. Wines are known for their good aging potential.
However, in recent years, many New World winemakers are influenced by Old World thinking about terroir, while some Old World producers are adopting some modern technologies.