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The Real Differences to New World and Old World Wine

August 21, 2012 Blog » Learn About Wine » The Real Differences to New World and Old World Wine

What does Old World Wine mean? Find out the differences between New World and Old World wine and how winemaking practices and regional climate greatly affect the taste of wine.

The spread of winemaking and Vitis vinifera grapes from the Middle East into Europe defines what areas are part of the Old World (in terms of wine).
The spread of winemaking and Vitis vinifera grapes from the Middle East into Europe defines what areas are part of the Old World (in terms of wine). Public Domain Map by Anonymous circa 1570 via Wikimedia

New World vs Old World Wine

Old World Wine: wines from countries or regions where winemaking (with Vitis vinifera grapes) first originated.

For example, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Germany are Old World wine countries that have made wine for thousands of years. Also, based on the definition, countries like Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Moldova are Old World wine regions as well.

New World Wine: wines from countries or regions where winemaking (and Vitis vinifera grapes) were imported during and after the age of exploration.

For example, the United States, Australia, South Africa, Chile, Argentina and New Zealand are New World wine regions. Also, based on the definition, China, India and Japan are New World wine regions.

Do Old World wines taste different than New World wines?

Yes, they often do. The differences in Old World and New World wines come from winemaking practices (tradition) and from the affect of the land and climate on the grapes (the “terroir”).

  • Old World wines are often described as tasting lighter, having less alcohol, having higher acidity, and tasting less fruity
  • New World wines are often described as tasting riper, having higher alcohol, having less acidity, and tasting more fruity

Despite these common descriptors between New and Old World wines, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule. This is because winemakers have a fair amount of control when it comes to affecting how a wine will ultimately taste. Call it a winemaking preference if you want, but many Old World regions have rules and regulations that dictate winemaking practices which ultimately decides a wine’s style.

For example, if you made Malbec with the exact same winemaking methodologies in Mendoza, Argentina and then in Cahors, France, the wines would taste similar but not the same. In this case, The difference is in the conditions (the climate, the microfauna, etc) of the two regions.

FUN FACT: An American winemaker famous for Malbec from Argentina (Paul Hobbs of Viña Cobos ) went to Cahors, France to make a Malbec–just as described above. It’s called Crocus

Taste the Difference Between New & Old World Wine

Example 1: Bordeaux Merlot vs. California Merlot
new world merlot Rombauer old world merlot Chateau Siaurac

2008 Rombauer Merlot California Critic Review

“This elegant, focused version delivers currant and floral herb aromas and appealing cherry, caramel and spice flavors. Drink now through 2017.” -Wine Spectator
ANALYSIS Wine Spectator is quick to announce the fruit characteristics of this wine first and also discuss “Caramel” and “Spice” which indicate oak aging. “Floral Herb” is mentioned as an aroma but not a flavor, saying that this wine may smell complex but tastes more fruity. Rombauer has long been known for making very fruit-forward wines in the past and Wine Spectator says this one is not as bold or lush as the others with the word “Elegant”.

2009 Chateau Siaurac France Critic Review

“Attractive truffle, graphite and plum notes intermixed with mocha and black cherry cascade from the glass of this supple, chunky, fleshy wine. There is good glycerin, purity and overall character to this wine, which can be drunk over the next decade.” -Robert Parker
ANALYSIS Robert Parker reveals the most prevalent flavors of this wine first in his description of Chateau Siarac. By saying the words “Graphite,” “Truffle” and “Chunky” he is telling us that the wine is more earthy. The indication of its expected age-worthiness of a decade, Parker is saying that the wine has the 4 components that make a wine age worthy. This does not mean that the wine will necessarily drink well now.

Example 2: Loire Sauvignon Blanc vs. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
new world sauvignon blanc Brancott old world sauvignon blanc Touraine

2011 Brancott Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand Critic Review

“Brancott sets the style for clean, oceanic Marlborough sauvignon with this mouthwatering wine. There’s a touch of flint in the aroma, bright passionfruit flavors and fresh acidity to balance it.” -Wine & Spirits
ANALYSIS Wine & Spirits suggests that the wine has a unique mineral aroma, but says that overall it tastes of passionfruit. “Passionfruit” in Sauvignon Blanc is a ripe flavor whereas flavors like “Lemon” and “Pepper” indicate a sauvignon blanc that was picked less ripe.

2011 Les Roches Touraine Blanc France Critic Review

“Intense classic nose of cut grass, pepper and, believe it or not, pineapples and lemons, with plenty of minerality. Very crisp and refreshing” -KL WInes
ANALYSIS KL Wines points out that this wine has a “Classic” note of “Cut Grass.” Picking flavors other than fruit shows that this wine has more savory flavors. Sauvignon Blanc from France tends to lean towards more herbaceous and mineral flavors.

A simplified map showing Old and New World wine regions.


By Madeline Puckette
I'm a certified wine geek with a passion for meeting people, travel, and delicious food. You often find me crawling around dank cellars or frolicking through vineyards. Find me at @WineFolly