What's the difference between Old World and New World wine? That depends on what you're referring to. Old World generally means something that's old-fashioned, dated, traditional, aged and classic. Adjectives pertaining to New World include modern, innovative, fresh, contemporary and in vogue.
Old World VS New World
That answer, however, can get confusing and misunderstood when applied to the wide world of wine. Industry terminology defines the old and new worlds in expressions pertaining to geography, style, flavor, terroir and production.
An oversimplified description is that Old World wine originated centuries ago in Italy, Spain and France, while the New World version is from the U.S., Australia and South Africa. An example of the misconception is that a specific wine made in Italy is called Old World, but the same varietal made in Napa Valley, Cal. is labeled New World. With so many exceptions to the rule, the difference is in the details.
Old World usually refers to wine from countries considered birthplaces, such as Europe and the Middle East. This category includes France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Greece, Lebanon, Israel, Croatia, Romania, Hungary and Switzerland.
Wine from these locations tends to be lighter bodied, more restrained and lower in alcohol, though this is more of a generalization than a fact. The main characteristic these countries have in common is that their wine production is restricted with rules and regulations.
Old World Wine Is More Acidic, Less Fruity
Each region of this Old World group has been producing wine a certain way for centuries, and current vintners are held to those venerable standards. With such heritage, it can get emotional for drinkers to realize that the wine in their glasses has been made the same way for hundreds of years.
Old World wine also contains elevated acidity levels and fewer fruity flavors. That's because, despite these rigid guidelines, winemakers have a measure of control over vineyard conditions like location, soil, drainage, harvesting and other factors that help influence a wine's flavor and style.
On the other hand, climates of New World vineyards are often warmer, resulting in riper grapes and more alcoholic, fruit-centered wines produced in a mineral, oak-persuaded manner. Most often, technology and science are key components in the production process. (Learn more in "How and Why Oak is Used in Wine Making.")
Wineries in New World positions usually inherit an entrepreneurial spirit from descendants of immigrants who arrived in search of a new lifestyle and source of income. In these regions, winemaking procedures vary dramatically with widespread experimentation. There's less emphasis on making wine the same way it's been made for centuries and more on modern viticulture and equipment. A younger generation of consumers figures into the equation as well.
Wine From Off-The-Beaten-Path Vineyards
There are off-the-beaten-path regions throughout Europe with a focus on how modern techniques can influence traditional customs. These relatively unknown sites include:
Wine in Croatia
Croatia is the birthplace of Zinfandel, which comes from the coastal area and balances a light salinization with a deep brininess.
Languedoc is where producers are into organic viticulture to turn out indigenous varietals like Syrah and Cabernet not found elsewhere. (Learn more about this region in "Roussillon: Home to Good Red and White Wine.")
Ribeira produces new wines with exceptional diversity and flavor profiles, in contrast with the country's more historic pours.
Savoie is a somewhat remote region where local grapes instill a mineral freshness into Jacquere, Nondeuse and Persan.
Franciacorta in the Lombardy territory of Italy reportedly makes the most serious sparkling wine in an area that doesn't carry a Champagne, France zip code. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Bianco excel by producing them in the Champagne manner.
Old World Wines Meet New World Traditions
Santorini, Greece makes a splash in the Mediterranean part of the world with acclaimed Assyrtiko white. Instead of the conventional way grapevines grow, those here are bundled and nestled close to the ground to protect them from damaging sea breezes.
Moldovan-Romanian wines date back more than 5,000 years and have flown completely under many wine connoisseur's radars. It produces some impressive Cabernets, Pinot Noirs and Gamays in this "most vineyard intense part of the planet."
Like anything else in a category, both old and new world wines have much to offer. If you like to embrace tradition, Old World wine is the preferred sip. But if you welcome change and an innovative experience, new is for you. Bottom line: Does it really matter if a wine is old or new world? Just drink what you like.