Clash of the Wine Titans

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There are more New World producers who are tuning their winemaking and vine-growing techniques to have more of an Old World aesthetic, while Old World producers are seeing the success of wines with more exuberance and fruit, thus gearing their protocols to eke out more flavor in their wines.

OLD WORLD WINES ARE GENERALLY MORE ELEGANT, REFINED AND POSH. NEW WORLD WINES ARE MORE OVERT, LOUD AND MAYBE EVEN BRASH. LIKE OUR CULTURES? MAYBE.

IMAGINE TAKING A VOYAGE THAT TOOK SIX WEEKS ON A SAILING VESSEL, LEAVING YOUR FAMILY, FRIENDS, COUNTRY OF ORIGIN AND CULTURE BEHIND TO BEGIN A NEW ADVENTURE IN A PLACE CALLED THE ‘NEW WORLD’. That is what immigrants from Europe had to do when they came and settled Amer- ica. This story repeats itself in other regions of the world like South America and Australia. Along with the European people came the vine and its fruit, but not just any vine. The vine that makes the classic wines around the globe is called Vitis Vinifera. This vine calls Europe home. Household grape (and wine) names like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, etc. are Vitis Vinifera.

In ‘winespeak’ the ‘Old World’ is Europe, where Vitis Vinifera came from. The ‘New World’ is virtually everywhere else. The term has nothing to do with how ‘old’ or ‘young’ a wine-producing region is. It relates more to the geography. But the terms ‘Old World’ and ‘New World’ carry more than just a delimitation of production area. They also convey a difference of character in a wine, a style and maybe even a philosophy.

Despite being made from the same grape wine from the Old World can taste very different from its New World cousin. Perhaps the biggest difference is that Old World wines have a tinge of earthiness to them. If you consider the fact the Old World wines are names after where they come from and not the grape that it is made from it makes sense. Chianti does not mention Sangiovese, Pauillac does not list Cabernet Sauvignon, nor does Chambertin list Pinot Noir on the label. The philosophy is that the wine has an expression uniquely linked to the place it is grown. The limestone vineyard of Chambertin, gravel-filled vineyards of Pauillac and galestro soils of Chianti are as important as the grape vines growing in them. This is not to say that they cannot be fruity or robust, but the expression is more than the ripeness of fruit, there is a sense of place in the glass. Another factor that lends itself to the earthiness of Old World wines is that irrigation is not allowed there, forcing the vines to seek sustenance deep into the earth.

In the New World, the grape is listed prominently on the label. Not as a result but the expression of New World wines, be it from Napa, Willamette, Colchagua, Mendoza or Barossa is focused on the fruit. Opulence, decadence and richness are words associated with New World wines. Comparatively Old World wines are grown in marginal (read: cooler) climate areas and in soils that other crops would not be used for. The adage is: wherever cereal and fruit trees will not grow, plant grape vines. In the New World, vines were generally planted in milder to warmer winegrowing areas, which might have been easier to plant and farm. This change of climate causes a marked difference in the wine. The wines are riper, higher in alcohol, lower in acidity and have more ‘cooked’ or ‘confected’ fruit aromas; some might call it jam-y.

Old World wines are generally more elegant, refined and posh. New World wines are more overt, loud and maybe even brash. Like our cultures? Maybe. But the lines are being blurred. There are more New World producers who are tuning their winemaking and vine-growing techniques to have more of an Old World aesthetic in their wine. On the other side, some Old World producers are seeing the market popularity and success of wines with more exuberance and fruit and also gearing their protocols to eke out more flavor in theirs. Even climate change is influencing ripeness levels all over the globe. Comparisons will forever be made between the two. Whether it is age ability, value, scores or accessibility, the two worlds will always compete. Lucky for us we will not have to wait for six weeks for that next shipment to arrive.

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