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Feb 21, 2007 12:59 PM

Clarification needed: Old World vs New World

Up until recently, I thought the Old World and New World references pertained to geography, Old World wines being those produced in countries that have been producing wine for hundreds of years (i.e., Germany, France, Italy) and New World referring to those countries relatively newly into wine production (US, Australia, South Africa, etc.). But lately I've heard those OW/NW references made to a style of wine -- OW being (maybe) more earthy, musty, etc., and NW being fresher, fruitier, crisper, etc.

Personally, I don't enjoy that "barnyard bouquet", and I've had a couple of people in wine shops tell me that that's an Old World style of wine, and that the only way to avoid it is to know the producer's style in any given region, regardless of geography.

Please help me here -- what is the OW/NW distinction? And, how do I avoid purchasing bottles with that "barnyard bouquet" in any given region?

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  1. 98% of "old world" wines don't have a barnyard bouquet, so it's not that hard to avoid. If you buy wine at a shop that's esoteric enough to have some, they should be able to steer you away.

    New world wines are, generally speaking, simpler. Fruit, alcohol, and oak are very forward and not well integrated. Herbal, earthy, and mineral aspects are muted or nonexistent. Only a handful of well-known varietals are commonly used, and when other varietals are used, they're frequently treated as if they were cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay.

    1. Barnyard shows up in New World wines too. Brettanomyces (aka brett) is often identified as a culprit, and it can affect wineries just about anywhere on the planet. At one time or another, tasters have found it in wines from, among others, Torbreck (Australia), Errazuriz and Almaviva (Chile) and Laurel Glen, Coturri, Mondavi and Chalk Hill (California). It used to be a frequent component of Bordeaux, though less in the last decade or so. The Rhône, too, is cleaning up its act. Let's hope they don't go too far: squeaky clean Beaucastel, Tempier or Musar would be much less interesting.

      1 Reply
      1. Another aspect of the distinction is color, weight, extractedness...with red wines, it's pretty much only the old world style Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rioja, etc. that are pale in color and light-bodied with sometimes less than 13% alcohol...they end up being more earthy, minerally, sometimes mushroomy. New World reds are invariably dark and fruity, usually high in alcohol (14% +).

        1. Your first inclination is correct. However, with globalization, it is more a matter of "style-befitting" now, and not exactly geography. Some producers in the US (definitely New World) are working the grapes, the vineyard, etc. in more of an OW-style. Same can be said for other areas. South America has some OW-style producers, and FR & IT have some NW-style producers. The litmus test is still; is the style OW, or NW, regardless of where it comes from. Sample "classic" examples of OW and NW, and you'll get a good idea. Andrea Immer ("Great Wine Made Simple"), and others, indicate that a wine list can be navigated at a simple level by the application of OW-NW, but that is getting a bit blurred. However, it will hold for the majority of the wines, that you are likely to encounter.


          10 Replies
          1. re: Bill Hunt

            Lots of European producers are doing new-world-style (aka "international") wines because they export a lot to countries where they're popular.

            Sadly, very few U.S. producers are doing old-world-style wines, since there's not much of a market for them and it's hard to get grapes that aren't overripe (unless you own your own vineyards)..

            If I'm tasting a red wine blind and can't decide whether it's OW or NW, that usually means it's Argentine.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              A good observation. A little gamesmanship. I'll have to remember that.

              "One peek is worth two finesses."

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Robert, I am fascinated by your comment that if you can't decide if a wine is OW or NW, than it is usually Argentine. Can you expend upon that a little? The reason I ask is that while my wife and I have overwhelmingly enjoyed the OW wines more than the NW wines that we have tried so far, the only wine outside of Italy and France that we have really enjoyed has been a Malbec from Argentina. What similarities/differences do they have in common with OW and NW? You got me curious. Thanks.

                1. re: bobby06877

                  I'm not Robert, but the observation is not unique to him.

                  For years, Argentina -- and Chile -- produced wines emulating the "Old World" methods typified by the Spanish. It makes sense, as winemaking was introduced there -- as it was to California -- by the Spaniards. Traditional winemaking techniques gave a more "Old World" style, or "flavor," to the wines.

                  Recently, as more California vintners work with South American wineries, the style is changing. For example, I agree with Robert that -- in general -- if it's difficult to distinguish between Old and New, it's probably Argentine (or Chilean), BUT -- for example, I have a hard time distinguishing (e.g.) the Chardonnays from Catena (an excellent Argentine producer) from those made in California.

                  1. re: zin1953

                    IMO, Chilean red wines are very easy to detect blind. They have a very unique bouquet.

                    You are right abut the chardonnays though.

                    1. re: chickstein

                      "Chilean red wines are very easy to detect blind. They have a very unique bouquet."

                      Agree. I liken it most to tomato plants (not the fruit; the stalks and leaves). It's one of the reasons I buy very few Chilean reds.

                      1. re: carswell

                        Yes, weedy and thin in relation to the level of fruit ripeness for Chilean reds. Also, the soapy, high pH mouthfeel gives them away.

                        1. re: carswell

                          I always associate it with burning tires. However, I think it is the eucalyptus. Grows like kudzu!

                    2. re: bobby06877

                      It's just a gut feeling based on tasting lots of wines over the years. It probably reflects Argentine winemakers having a closer connection with the European tradition.

                      To oversimplify a lot, the modern Argentine wine industry was built up in the first half of the 20th century by French, Italian, and Spanish immigrants. The modern California wine industry was built up in the 1960s through 1980s by UC Davis-trained enologists.

                    3. re: Robert Lauriston

                      "If I'm tasting a red wine blind and can't decide whether it's OW or NW, that usually means it's Argentine."

                      I say the same thing but also consider South Africa as the origin. Red wines from both counties have more pronounced earth tones and acidic signature.

                  2. The way I understand it, New World-style wines are about the winemaking process and winemaker's ability to manipulate the wine, whereas Old World-style wines are more about the terroir and have a strong sense of place. Like Robert says, NW wines tend to have more vanilla and fruit flavors, while OW wines tend to be more earthy and have more herbal, floral and mineral notes. I've found that NW wines are often best enjoyed by themselves or with a very light snack, while OW wines work better with meals. I love both, depending on the occasion.

                    I've never come across a new world wine with a barnyard nose, but I've tasted a few French and Italian wines that have it. It *sounds* like it would be totally repellent, especially to a city girl like myself, but I kinda like it. Go figure.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: oolah

                      I've had a few OR PNs, that had a decidedly "barnyard" nose. However, most of these were done more in an OW-style, than many others. Some, like Domaine Drouhin have a strong OW tie-in. While there may be some barnyard in CA PNs, I do not recall any.

                      Also, mushroom, damp earth, etc. can get a bit close, but real "barnyard" is not that common.