During a recent dinner with wine colleagues from around the world, Brian, from the United States, while tasting a Tempranillo from Spain, said: ‘’Well… it’s New World to me.” This gave us the idea to do a blind tasting of Old World vs. New World Wine. That night, amongst friends from France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Argentina, Canada, USA and Chile, was already proof that Old World and New World vines walk in hand, learning from and completing each other. But what are the differences between them? From vinification techniques to packaging and so much more, let’s look at how they measured up in our blind tasting.
Preparing for a blind tasting of New World vs. Old World Wine
If you’re going to do a blind tasting with a group of friends like we did, here’s how to plan it. Each person should bring two wines, one Old World and one New World. Let’s quickly define these: Old World Wines are those made in countries that are considered the birthplaces of wine in Europe and the Middle East. Some of these countries are: France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Greece, Hungary, Switzerland, Georgia, Turkey, Armenia, Moldova and Israel. New World countries include: the U.S.A., Argentina, Chile, Australia New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, China and India. So many choices! I decided to bring wine from Greece (my home country) and New Zealand (where I’m currently living).
You’ll need a big table with chairs for your friends and plenty of wine glasses. Cover the bottles with brown paper bags or similar, and bring tasting notebooks and pens. After you pour the wine, you’ll want to analyse it using all the wine tasting basics of colour, smell and taste. Try to reveal the vintages by region and wine type, getting as specific as you can – that’s part of the fun!
General differences between New World vs. Old World Wine
Our blind tasting had begun. We poured a wine rainbow from so many countries and of every type – reds, whites, rosés, sparklings, dessert wines… some organic, biodynamic, natural wines… In some cases we compared the same varieties from New vs. Old worlds. Generally, we used some simple rules about the differences between these wine origins to guide us.
Old World wines tend to be lighter-bodied, exhibiting more herbal, earthy, mineral and floral components. They are subtle, less fruity with more structure and tannins. Old world regions tend to be cool-climate ones, so the grapes are not fully ripened, they have higher acidity and lower alcohol content. Grapes are grown and harvested with a focus on an expression of place, the “terroir”, and they are usually picked earlier to extend their aging potential.
New world producers focus on the grapes, often producing more fruity-tasting wines. New world regions tend to be warmer, so grapes are ripened more and have more sugar content, which translates to more alcohol. The wines are full-bodied, with ripe or overripe fruit taste and with low acid and high alcohol contents, often with an oak-influenced style. More round and with smooth tannins, they can also be ready to drink when young.
Rules are meant to be broken, so when tasting a Pinot Noir we found ourselves disputing whether it was an Old or a New World one. Wine style is affected by climate, microclimate, soil, viticulture and viniculture. But human intervention also plays a key role. Depending on the personality, the experience and the personal preference of the winemaker the same variety, grown in different regions, can vary dramatically. While winemakers in the New World are often keen to experiment, Old World ones more likely follow traditional winemaking methods to preserve the centuries of history.
New World vs. Old World Wine labels
When we took off the paper covering our wine bottles, we revealed the labels and noticed major differences in label design between New World and Old World wines. The Old World wine labels tend to be more traditional, always mentioning producer and appellation (reassuring us that the grapes are treated with a certain winemaking method) and were usually internally consistent by region. In fact, this area has strict regulations that allow specific grape varieties in certain regions, harvest methods, minimum alcohol contents, and winemaking methods.
The New World wine labels tended to state varieties as well as brands very clearly, often with strong, colourful designs. The new world regions have fewer laws to regulate winemaking. Consequently, winemakers are free to plan and harvest all types of grape varieties wherever they prefer. This shows not only in the information you’ll find on the label but also graphically, from a design perspective.
Two different worlds, many things to learn. Our wine glasses were on fire, and as the night kept going, we were learning more things, exchanging the information we gathered for our wine countries, and searching online for more insights for each producer we were tasting. We couldn’t decide if we were more into New or Old Word world wines… and we didn’t have to. Each palate is unique and to be immersed in the world of wine, all it takes is a sip.
When you enjoy a glass of wine, it’s a moment to dive in your senses and forget the rules. Wine is made in the most beautiful places, by passionate people crazy enough to climb on mountains, hills and slopes to discover the pure expression of nature. It can reveal in the most romantic way a footprint of time, human and nature. Before you pour yourself the next glass, close your eyes, and travel above the region. Dream of the landscape, the climate, the food, the language, the people. Then, take a sip. Wine is your personal global journey.