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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.


                    2. Cindy,

                      I haven't read what's already been posted, so if this is boring and repetative, I apologize.

                      People, as is their want, play "fast and loose" with terminology. You are quite right in that, classically, "Old World" meant the continent of Europe (and Asia), and "New World" meant everything else. But in the world of wine, the distinction which is sometimes referred to as "Old-" and "New World" is more accurately described as "Traditional" and "Modern."

                      What's worse is that you can have both traditional and modern wines produced everywhere -- both come from California; both styles are made in Bordeaux, in Burgundy, in the Rhône, etc., as well as throughout Spain, Italy, etc., etc.

                      Example: Calera produces traditional California Pinot Noir; Loring produces California Pinot Noir in a modern style. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti makes Burgundies in a traditional style; Dominique Laurent does so in a modern style.

                      * * * * *

                      The "barnyard" character you abhor is Brettanomyces, or "Brett" for short. There are many different strins of Brett -- some more noxious than others, and some actually beneficial in terms of adding complexity and character to the wine. I say this based on multiple blind tastings of the same wne -- a control sample (i.e.: clean), and several samples deliberately infected with various strains of Brett. (For more information, check out Professor Kenneth Fugelsang's research at CSU Fresno.)

                      Brett can and does occur anywhere and everywhere. In other words, Old World and New World (geography) have nothing to do with it; neither does "traditional" nor "modern" (styles) of winemaking. Robert Mondavi had a huge Brett problem, for example, in the -- what was it? late 1980s? early 1990? -- I don't remember off the top of my head.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: zin1953

                        The terms "old world" and "new world" seem ubiquitous to me.

                        The meaning of "traditional" and "modern" varies with the traditions of the place. There are lots of wines in Campania and Sicily in the sense that are modern in the sense that they're using UC Davis techniques rather than following the local traditions, but the wines are generally still have old-world characteristics. In Lazio, traditional wines are sweet, modern wines are dry.

                      2. What I'm taking away from all of your replies is: (1) the OW/NW distinction isn't really an important one, at least insofar as that "barnyard" characteristic is concerned, (2) that the "barnyard bouquet" I seek to avoid isn't a function of OW vs NW, but rather a condition -- "Brett" -- that occurs during the growing process that imparts that characteristic, and (3) sometimes Brett is a problem, but sometimes that characteristic is so desired that it's deliberately introduced into the wine making process.

                        Which brings me back to the question that prompted my original posting -- how can I avoid Brett in the wines I purchase? And, where can I find a listing of wine producers based on whether their wines are produced in a "traditional" or "modern" style?

                        14 Replies
                        1. re: CindyJ

                          Explore, experiment, taste. Sometimes you have to drink bad wine (or at least ordinary wine) in order to find and appreciate good wine.

                          If you are lucky, you can find a good merchant to help the process.

                          1. re: CindyJ

                            Brett is a wild yeast, not a condition. Its presence is determined by many factors including weather conditions and winery hygiene. It can affect wines one year and not the next. One way winemakers combat it is with sulphur or sulphur compounds. Not surprisingly, wines with no added sulphur often have a higher rate of brett infection, so you should probably be wary of those. As zin1953 points out, a little brett is not always a bad thing, and certain wineries are prized for their brett-affected wines -- Beaucastel and Musar are two sterling examples -- so you can steer clear of them (though, please, not without trying them first; like legions of wine lovers, you may find there are some bretty wines you love).

                            Generally speaking, newer wineries and old wineries with new wine-making facilities tend to have better hygiene. The same holds true for larger "industrial" wineries. So one tactic, perversely, would be to avoid artisanally produced wines; unfortunately, doing so would also mean cutting yourself off from some of the most interesting wines made these days.

                            Read tasting notes. Query retailers. Google the names of wines you're considering along with key words like brett, funky, barnyard.

                            But even then it's something of a crap shoot. Last year I bought two bottles of a 1999 Gigondas from Château Raspail. The first, opened at a tasting, reeked to high heaven (one taster memorably described it as like a donkey defecating into a vat of blue cheese) though it tasted fine. The second bottle, opened a few weeks later, was clean as a whistle. Same wine, same vintage, same case. Brett happens.

                            1. re: carswell

                              ~CHUCKLE~ I'll have to remember that -- "Brett Happens." Maybe I'll hang a little plaque in my kitchen...

                            2. re: CindyJ

                              >>>(1) the OW/NW distinction isn't really an important one, at least insofar as that "barnyard" characteristic is concerned<<<

                              Correct -- one is not "connected" to the other.

                              >>>(2) that the "barnyard bouquet" I seek to avoid isn't a function of OW vs NW, but rather a condition -- "Brett" -- that occurs during the growing process that imparts that characteristic<<<

                              As carswell said, it's not a "condition." It's a microorganism.

                              >>>(3) sometimes Brett is a problem, but sometimes that characteristic is so desired that it's deliberately introduced into the wine making process.<<<

                              No one I know has ever DELIBERATELY added Brett. The research showing that some strains provide a "positive" or "beneficial" quality is very new -- certainly less than 10 years. Prior to that, it was -- and in most circles, still is -- considered a "spoilage organism" and something to be avoided (generally a "clean" winery will have no problems Brett). However, while some people (perhaps such as yourself) find even the slightest whiff of Brett completely objectionable, others don't mind it at low levels. (Think of it like new oak -- some oak in a wine can be fine, but there reaches a point where the level of new oak is so high as to be objectionable; precisely where that point is, however, a matter of personal preference and not everyone will agree that *this* wine or *that* wine is over-oaked.)

                              >>>Which brings me back to the question that prompted my original posting -- how can I avoid Brett in the wines I purchase?<<<

                              Ask questions of the salespeople in the wine store, read varius reviews, etc. But keep in mind that Brett isn't a permanent condition -- this vintage may have it, but that vintage may not.

                              >>>And, where can I find a listing of wine producers based on whether their wines are produced in a "traditional" or "modern" style?<<<

                              No such list exists. Again, ask questions of salespeople, read, etc. But -- again -- keep in mind that Brett can exist in a traditional or a modern winery . . .

                              1. re: zin1953

                                It's oft repeated that Robert Mondavi deliberately introduced brett to introduce an old world signature. But I've never had that confirmed.

                              2. re: CindyJ

                                Re (1), there's a strong correlation. I have yet to encounter brett in a Western Hemisphere wine--I think they must throw that wine out as spoiled. I've encountered it many times in Rhone wines and occasionally in Bordeaux, I think a couple of times in South African wines.

                                Re (2), among wine geeks, "barnyardy" usually means brett, but you might be using it to describe something else.

                                Re (3), it seems to me that the brettiness of Chateau Rayas's wines has to be deliberate. It's always there and it's always balanced with the wine's other qualities. But Rayas is one of the most famously eccentric wineries in the world.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  >>>Re (2), among wine geeks, "barnyardy" usually means brett, but you might be using it to describe something else.<<<

                                  I'm hardly a wine geek. My use of the term "barnyardy" is akin to "Whoa -- WHAT did I step in???"

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston


                                    re (1): Brett exists in LOTS of wines from California -- as mentioned above, Mondavi had a HUGE Brett problem in the late '80s/early '90s. Several wineries in the Sierra foothills have or have had Brett problems; so, too, vintners in Mendocino, San Luis Obispo and elsewhere. If you haven't found it, you either haven't noticed it, or you're only drinking "ultra-clean" wines.

                                    re (2): Just out of curiousity, can you come up with another use for the word "barnyardy" in terms of wine -- in other words, what other characteristic would it describe?

                                    re (3): Rayas has had Brett long before anyone ever isolated strains of it -- I think "deliberate" has nothing to do with it, UNLESS you mean by that that the Reynaud family has intentionally *not* rid the winery of their Brett contamination.

                                    1. re: zin1953

                                      1 - All I know is I've been drinking lots of different wines for 30 years and have never encountered brett in a California wine, while I have come across it several times a year in Rhones and to a lesser extent Bordeaux. I take that to mean that bretty California wines are much less likely to reach the market.

                                      2- I just say bretty.

                                      3 - I mean they want their wines to taste that way.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Cindy and Robert,
                                        Brett doesn't always smell barnyard-y.

                                        It can also smell like (classified by type)
                                        burnt plastic
                                        spicy smokiness (have to differentiate it from the spicy smokiness of oak)
                                        -or, also in the barnyard pantheon-
                                        leather saddle,
                                        animal hide,
                                        stinky tennis shoes (but the smell of sweaty gym socks is caused by something else)
                                        -- all depending on which strain of Brett you're smelling,

                                        White wines almost never have Brett because of their higher acidity (lower pH).
                                        In some Cab and Syrah, Brett at low levels adds some pleasant complexity -- nice leather saddle notes. But nice Brett is never barnyard-y. Brett is never acceptable in Pinot Noir.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Brett levels have risen dramatically in California wines and is correlated with increases in pH and the desire to not filter red wines.

                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                            hey.. know its probably a bit late, but if the "barnyardy" character you describe is like a musty, mushroomy, or sometimes I get a hay (horse hay) aroma, it could be that the wines were oaked in old barrels... some old world producers use barrels that are 60+ years old and this imparts a musty character into the wine

                                            1. re: ausren

                                              "Barnyardy" is specific to Brettanomyces. It can be in new barrels as well as old.

                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Out of curiosity I plugged "barnyard" and source: USA into Parker's online tasting notes search. 4 wines came back -

                                            Failla 2000 Estate Syrah - "gorgeous perfume of creme de cassis, bacon fat, barnyard, and earth"
                                            Fife 1999 Redhead Vineyard Zin - "aromas reminiscent of fresh cow manure. The wine is soft and supple, with loads of cherry and currant fruit as well as admirable texture and fatness, but its barnyard scents will be controversial"
                                            Grgich Hills 1993 Zin - "slight earthy, barnyard character to its bouquet"
                                            Simi 1935 (!!!) Carignane (tasted in 1992) - "first impressions of a dirty barnyard and sweaty saddle leather blew off to reveal aromas of ripe black fruits"

                                            There's another 5 other reviews that refer to specifically to presence of brett (mostly pre-1990 vintages).

                                    2. Here's an example of an old-world style California wine: 2005 Brosseau Vineyard (Chalone AVA) Chablis-style chardonnay from A Donkey and Goat. They made some verjus from the vineyard earlier in the year, then added it to the barrels during fermentation to raise the acid level. Mineraly, balanced, great nose, structure. My guess is it will benefit from some aging.

                                      Here are some detailed notes on the similar 2004:


                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Hey, someone else who likes A Donkey and Goat chardonney! Yeah. I love Jared and Tracey's wines.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          "They made some versus from the vineyard in the spring, then added it to the barrels during fermentation to raise the acid level."

                                          Do you mean "verjus"? You don't harvest grapes for verjus in the spring. There are no grapes in spring -- only flowers. Typically, verjus is produced from clusters dropped in the summer when thinning your crop load and/or from the unripe second crop picked in the fall.

                                          1. re: zin1953


                                            They said there's no thinning, the pruning takes place before there's any fruit. They have to go to the vineyard and pick the green grapes themselves, the growers think it's crazy.

                                        2. I tried another delicous old-world-styled California wine last night: Three Families 2006 Mendocino County Chardonnay.

                                          Three Families Winery
                                          13500 S Hwy 101, CA 95449