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Dec 30, 2007 09:09 AM

Old World vs New World Wine 101, Please

Would someone be kind enough to differentiate for me Old World versus New World wines?

I know this is remedial and I do appreciate the generosity of the board.

With gratitude,


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  1. Amelie,

    The similarities, and the differences, could fill several volumns. My suggestion for the best "course" of action, would be to pick up a copy of Andrea Immer's (now Robinson) "Great Wine Made Simple." Her book is really a course in wine tasting, and this is one major topic, that runs throughout the book. Besides reading about the comparison of OW vs NW, she leads the reader through well-thoughtout tastings. Her lists (now possibly outdated) of wines, should be used as a guide, not a bible, but with that one caveat, you will soon learn, for yourself, exactly what is meant with comparing OW and NW.

    Also, it was once as much about geography, as winemaking choices, but some of the winemaking techniques have crossed and re-crossed, geographical lines, as NW producers try for more of an OW wine, and vice-versa. A map of the world is less useful today, than it was just a few decades ago.

    Good reading and tasting,

    1. Amelie,

      From a geographic standpoint, "Old World" refers to wines that originate in Europe (and the Middle East). New World refers to wines that come from areas that Europeans are not indigineous to such as North and South America, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, etc.

      STYLE-wise, Old world wines tend to be lower in alcohol, higher in acidity, less extracted in fruit, and wines that are aged in oak tend to be aged in less new wood and/or for a shorter period of time, giving less of an oaky impression. The high end "New World" wines will frequently be seen as drinkable and delicious younger in life whereas the high end "Old World" wines are typucally seen as needing lots of age. These are all generalities, mind you, but this is why when you read a tasting note on, say a Spainsh Priorat, someone might call it "new world" or "new world - influenced" or "modern" or "International -styled" -- these are all ways of saying that the wine is produced in a manner that seems more closely resembling the way New World wines currently tend to be produced. (Similarly, you may read a TN on a CA wine calling it "old world", you can apply the same logic here but in reverse.)

      1. Please see this extensive thread with additional specific differences delineated:

        "Clarification needed: Old World vs New World"

        1 Reply
        1. re: maria lorraine

          Thank you so much for the brief overview and for pointing me in the right direction.

        2. Most of the New World wine regions are closer to the equator than thier old world couterparts, this impacts day lengths and the angle and intensity of light. I suspect this has a lot to do with the differences between old and new world wine. In general grapes seem to have more sugar and less acid when grown at lower lattitudes.

          The two new world wine regions that are at the same lattitude as France are the Pacific Northwest and the South Island of New Zealand. I have tasted examples from these places that could have been straight out of France, and others that tasted half French and half Californian. I suspect that part of it is geography and part is winemaking style and when the grapes are picked.

          In general I don't think in terms of new world vs old because the various new world regions are too diverse to be summed up neatly. Chilean Cabernet is very different from Australian Shiraz for example.

          27 Replies
          1. re: Somnifor

            "The two new world wine regions that are at the same lattitude as France are the Pacific Northwest and the South Island of New Zealand."

            uhh, when did they move New Zealand out of the Southern hemisphere? Or did they just detach France from the rest of Europe?

            45 degrees S latitude is very different from 45 degrees N latitude

            1. re: FrankJBN

              "uhh, when did they move New Zealand out of the Southern hemisphere"?

              It was a Bush Administration decision.

              1. re: FrankJBN

                In terms of day length and sun angle they are the same, but opposite.

                I was trying to express the fact that grape charecter changes as you move from the more equitorial regions to the more temperate ones, even if climates are otherwise similar. This is true in both hemispheres.

                1. re: Somnifor

                  Latitude, shmatitude.

                  In both your posts, you have overestimated the importance of latitude and underestimated the importance of climate and changing weather systems, notably ocean currents, especially in regards to Europe. You have also underplayed the effect of topology, which includes the vineyard's directional exposure to the sun, not merely the sun's angle as determined by latitude; as well as the slope of the vineyard. Also at play are soil/rock content, moisture/water table/precipitation and most basically -- altitude.

                  Consider Spain, rather far south in Europe for a wine-growing region, but the altitude of its vineyards is quite high, around a thousand feet. Altitude cancels out the effect of its hot climate, counter to your theory. Terroir is far more complex than climate and latitude.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    >> Altitude cancels out the effect of its hot climate, counter to your theory.

                    1000 ft in elevation is only responsible for about 1.7 deg.C. in temperature. I would think this 1000 ft does NOT cancel extra warm weather in Spain. I could be wrong however.

                    >> Terroir is far more complex than climate and latitude.

                    Next time I see Baron Rotschild or other prominent french winemakers I have to remind him of this. I heard his comments about california wines that vines in California have "too good a life", too good a weather, etc., they don't "struggle", hence they can't develope a "character". For some reason he did not say californian "terroir" is different hence .....

                    1. re: olasek

                      Baron [Phillipe] Rothschild died several years ago, of course, but in my conversations with him -- he wasn't the winemaker, by the way, at Mouton, or any of his other properites; nor is Baron Eric or his father, Elie, at Lafite -- he was far from the only European who thinks that California is "too good" for grapes.

                      Calfiornia, of course, produces many great wines -- several of them truly world-class (whatever that means) -- but you can EASILY make the arguement that most of the state is "too good" (or "not a good place") for grapes.

                      The weather is at once too consistent over years and subject to temperature swings which are far too wide over a 24-hour period to be beneficial. It is too hot in the middle of the day in much of Calfiornia, and the vines actually shut down in the heat (think heatstroke); and it's frequently too cold at night, and the vines again shut down. As cold and extreme as we think Germany is, the daytime temperatures are not as high, and the slate rocks radiate heat overnight keeping the vines from getting too cold in the evenings.

                      Most of California is volcanic in nature. The soil is rich with nutrients. Most of the European soil is much poorer in terms of soil nutrients. The result is that it's very rare for a California grapevine's root system to "go deep"; it doesn't need to. 10-15 feet; maybe, in some places, 20, but quite often less. OTOH, it's quite common for vines in Europe to have root systems that go 30-40 feet or more straight down in search of moisture and nutrients.

                      Few regions of California truly have what I would describe as unique terroir. Whether that is due to the character (or lack thereof) found in the grapes themselves, or because the winemakers obliterate by the way they produce the wine, is extremely difficult to discern.

                      That said, I am hopeful this will change over the next generation or two.


                      1. re: olasek

                        Altitude is important in microclimates.
                        That is why in North America you still find fir and pine forests as far south as Mexico (Sierras), and why Western and Northeastern California flora is not the same dessert that you find in most of Nevada, Arizona, and Texas.
                        Spain geographically is at near the same latitude as the US maybe higher and it's high topography gives it cooler weather even though the Atlantic keeps it's atmosphere warmer than usual during the summer, in the winter you can head to their ski resorts in the northern part of the country.

                        1. re: olasek

                          >>>>1000 ft in elevation is only responsible for about 1.7 deg.C. in temperature. I would think this 1000 ft does NOT cancel extra warm weather in Spain. I could be wrong however.

                          Just checked and Spain’s vineyards range from 300 to 800 meters, or 1000 to 2600 feet. Rioja is at 1500 feet, and Ribera del Duero is at 2500 feet.

                          Yes, olasek, the temperature gradient alone due to altitude isn’t enough to offset the heat. It's the other factors that come with altitude -- wind and the much cooler nighttime temps, compared to sea level -- that cool the grapes and offset the otherwise scorching heat of the day.

                          The temp gradient for still air, the environmental lapse rate, may be the gradient to which you're referring. In any case, this gradient is very close to what you've stated: a decrease of 1.98 degrees C. (3.6 deg F.) per 1000 feet.

                          Perhaps the air is quite still on the hot plains of La Mancha where Airen is grown, but my guess is the air is moving in Rioja and Ribera del Duero. In that case, a different temperature gradient kicks in: the adiabatic lapse rate. It's a decrease of about 10 degrees C. per 1000 meters or 5.5 deg F. per 1000 feet.

                          Even with that larger temp gradient, it's still not enough, as you are saying, to offset the hot climate of Spain. It's the factors that come with altitude -- wind and the huge diurnal range in temp -- that do the trick. And by the way, thank you for causing me to dig into my college meteorology notes!

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            And, that brings us to the term "terroir." Whether it is used to describe the soil, the exposure, the climatic conditions that might exist with some regularity, the slope, and on, and on.

                            Were it so simple as just drawing a line on the globe, then duplicating it (if it is latitude) for the Southern Hemisphere, then all places along that line, should produce the same grapes. They do not, as most of us, have found out.

                            There is an infinite number of variables, that come into play, and that is just from a geographic and geological point. Add in factors, such as irrigation, age of vines, design of the planting and trellis system, spacing of vines, and on, and on. Then, we have to factor in the vigneron's methods of trimming and harvesting. It is not about a geographic location, only.

                            A perfect example is the "Banana Belt," in Colorado, US, which is at an altitude, equal to the highest grape-growing regions in GR, but because of meteorological anomalies, produces some excellent wine grapes.


                          2. re: olasek

                            Many of the good wine growing regions in Spain are considerable higher than that. More like 750 m to 900 m (around 2500 to 3000 feet) in the upper meseta (for example Ribera del Duero).

                        2. re: Somnifor

                          Chateau Ste. Michelle started the latitude nonsense, citing that Washington State was on the same latitude as Bordeaux . . .

                          OK, so let's see . . . cold current coming down the West Coast out of the Gulf of Alaska v. moderate currents, the remnants of the Gulf Stream. Oh, yeah -- no difference there! ;^)

                          Soil types? The Columbia Valley is volcanic-based, while Bordeaux is alluvial. Oh, yeah -- no difference there either! ;^)

                          And on and on -- not only topography and altitude, as Maria Lorraine quite ably points out, but the effects of microclimate and more -- that knoll, for example, that separates the Stag's Leap District from the rest of Napa Valley, blocking the afternoon sun and helping create the unique qualities so characteristic of SLD vs. the Yountville and Oakville regions of the Napa Valley.

                          1. re: zin1953

                            Before we throw Ch. Ste. M under the bus, isn't it Paul Jaboulet that makes a "Parallele 45" Cote du Rhone (and, according to its website, has done so under that name since the 1950's?)

                            1. re: Frodnesor

                              I don't think that zin was disputing what the latitude of Bordeaux is compared to Washington State, only that the latitude is not the main factor in what makes the terrior of a place unique. Bordeaux and Washington may have the same latitude, but that is about all they have in common (other than the types of grapes planted there, and even then, Washington is probably better known for Burgandian and Rhone type grapes rather than the classic Bordeaux blends.)

                              1. re: dinwiddie

                                I understand and agree with that point, the question I'm throwing out is whether the US winemakers (Ch. Ste. M in particular) are entirely to blame for the "latitude nonsense," or whether perhaps the French share some complicity.

                                Though I will say - not that it has anything to do with latitude, necessarily, but who knows - that I actually find that what Washington State is doing best is, in fact, Bordeaux style blends, in particular the cab sauv. / cab franc / merlot blends from folks like Delille, Cayuse, Cadence. Though I've not had as many Wash St. syrahs I understand these have been quite good of late too.

                              2. re: Frodnesor

                                I don't think PJA's designation is meant to suggest a special pedigree about it's Cote-du-Rhone, but rather the general significance of the 45th Parallel being the midpoints between the North Pole and the Equator.

                                1. re: mengathon

                                  From the website:

                                  This Côtes du Rhône takes its name from the 45th North parallel which runs two kilometres from the cellars of Maison Paul Jaboulet Aîné. In the village of Pont de l’Isère, a monument symbolises this line with the inscription: “the South begins here”. Our wine has had this name since the beginning of the 1950s.


                                  1. re: Frodnesor

                                    I read this too. Nowhere in it do I find a suggestion that their proximity to this specific latitude makes their CDR taste better. I believe PJA is simply noting the important landmark, not the latitude.

                                2. re: Frodnesor

                                  Paul Jaboulet Ainé is simply citing a location: we are on the 45th parallel.

                                  Chateau Ste, Michelle's original back labels SPECIFICALLY proclaimed "we're on the same latitude as Bordeaux" and that's why our wines are so damned great!

                                  Their wines ARE very good, but that's just total nonsense (but it was great marketing!).

                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    Yes, as anyone, who has sailed the Northern 40s vs the Southern 40s can attest - they are not even close!


                                    1. re: zin1953

                                      Agree w/ you and mengathon - just quoting it.

                                      1. re: Frodnesor

                                        Well, wow! Ask a simple question...hahahha. Ok, I now know it was no simple question.

                                        But here IS a simple question.

                                        Would any of you be able to tell, in a blind taste test, which wine was considered new world, and which would be considered old world? And if so, please describe for me HOW you would know.

                                        Thank you VERY are all just great.

                                        1. re: Amelie

                                          The link in the third post goes into this.

                                          1. re: Amelie

                                   experienced taster would likely be able to tell the differences in a blind taste test...the new world wines would be more fruit-forward, perhaps a bit sweeter, with more noticeable vanilla flavours imparted by the oak (probably new American oak); the old world wines would be subtler, duskier, with more mineral, herb, and earthy flavours (i.e. tar, leather, tobacco). The oak in the old world wines would not be as noticeable. As mentioned in a previous post, the old world wines would possibly be more noticeably acidic.

                                            However, if one were to "rig" the test by serving old world wines made in a new world style (i.e. some of the recent higher-alcohol, Michel Rolland inspired efforts) and new world wines made in an old world style, a taster could easily be fooled.

                                              1. re: anewton

                                                ALAS!!! An answer with which I can make sense! Thank you VERY much! This is exactly what I was wanting to know.

                                                Thanks to EVERYONE who posted to this thread and were so generous with information and knowledge.

                                                anewton, however, hit the home run (for me and at my level).

                                                thank so much!

                                                1. re: anewton

                                                  This is pretty spot-on. Having recently done a group blind tasting of old- and new-world pinots with my wine group lately, I will say that while I don't have a ton of experience tasting blind, it was surprisingly easy - a few outlyers excluded - to identify what was new world and what was old world. I suspect pinot is among the easiest of varietals to use for distinguishing the differences.

                                                  A couple oddballs that most folks had dificulty placing were a Sandbichler Pinot from Italy (Alto Adige), and a Bass Phillip Pinot from Victoria, Australia.

                                                  Probably the biggest surprise of the tasting was a really good, though very much new-world style, pinot from Argentina - Chacra Treinta y Dos (an '05).

                                                  1. re: Frodnesor

                                                    What is more fun than playing with wine?i