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The 4 Key Differences Between New World & Old World Wines

March 17, 2018 3 min read

You may already know the terms 'New World' & 'Old World' when we talk about wines. But the terms can mean more than just where they wines are from…as I learnt the hard way when I was put on the spot.

I remember when I first started working in the wine industry and attending trade shows where, being very wet behind the ears, I was asked (and perplexed by) the question “Is it New World or Old World style?”


Working for a Chilean winery at the time, I would confidently reply “It’s New World!”.  But more than once, I got a retort along the lines of “Yes, but the style.”


This generally brought about a bead of sweat and a furrowed brow as, being a relative novice, I had no idea what they were referring to.


….Ermm – it’s wine from the New World, so, I guess New World style?....


So with a little (just a touch) more knowledge now, I can try and help those who are equally a bit confused by what these distinctions mean with an explanation of the 4 key differences between New World and Old World, and how they can be different styles, as well as locations.


So, here are the 4 key points of differentiation between New World & Old World.


  1. Where they are from (the obvious one).


New World refers to all those regions outside of the Old World (simple enough), and the Old World essentially refers to Europe.


So if your wine comes from France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Greece, Croatia etc, you are drinking Old Word wine. If it comes from the USA, Chile, South Africa, Australia, you’re in New World territory – by the geographical distinction.  


  1. What they are called.




In the Old World, wines are normally named after the place where they come from. So, for some famous examples, we can take Bordeaux, Rioja, and Chianti. These are all famous wine producing regions and we simply name the wine from the place. Bordeaux wines, for example, are generally blends of Cab Sauv, Merlot and a selection of other red grapes, Rioja wines are generally Tempranillo and Chianti is Sangiovese dominated blends…. but you will never see this on the label. 


The New World, being the rule-breakers they are, simply put the variety on the label, and young, modern consumers have arguably become much more comfortable with the clarity of knowing the variety upfront and clearly stated.


  1. How they are made.



This is the main point when it comes to a style distinction of New World vs Old World.


The issue is one of tradition over technology, with Old World being the bastions of traditional methods, and New World being adopters of technological advances, such as stainless steel tanks.  Stainless steel tanks input no secondary flavour compounds onto the wine, in the same way that oak would. The result is therefore a much stronger expression of fruit.


What that has meant in terms of style is that the Old World is a synonymous with more ‘elegant’ wine styles, whilst New World is known for the fruit forward styles that can often become jammy, ‘fruit bombs’ for the bigger, full bodied reds.


But because the lines are blurred and winemakers, trends, technologies and ideas all flow across borders, this is why we can come to understand a ‘New World’ style coming from, say, France. 


  1. Terrior vs Winemaker


Terroir is the French word that we generally understand to mean all of the environmental factors that can affect the growth of the grapes; from weather, to soil, to topography of the land.

In the Old World, much is made of the importance of these environmental aspects, and how they vary year on year, resulting in different vintages producing very different wines. In the New World, much more emphasis is put on the Winemaker and his or her capacity to produce an outstanding wine. Cheers!