What’s the Difference Between Old World Wines and New World Wines?

What’s the Difference Between Old World Wines and New World Wines?

As you set sail on your voyage of discovery around the world of wine, you’ll find it has two hemispheres. Not northern and southern, but old and new from which we get ‘old world wines’ and ‘new world wines’.

While you can divide these wines geographically – old world wines are mainly from the northern hemisphere, new world wines are mainly from the southern – there’s often a world of difference when it comes to styles too.

In this blog, we’ll explore the differences between old and new world wines, and provide an overview of the major nations’ wines. So whether you’re looking for a wine to raise a smile or something more serious, you’ll know where the perfect bottle lies.

Difference Between Old World and New World Wine

Old World Wines

Old world nations have been making wines for absolutely ages – hence the name.  Georgia is thought to be the oldest winemaking country with a history dating back over 6,000 years. Today, when most people think of old world wine countries they think of Spain, Italy, Germany, and of course, France.

While the Romans were responsible for introducing winemaking to most of these countries, each has subsequently put its own stamp on wine. They’ve all contributed to the wine rulebook and in (very) broad terms their wines can be described as:

  • France – elegant, refined – to the point of being haughty in places like Alsace – with long-lived reds and complex whites that balance fruit and savouriness.

  • Italy – anything and everything from sophisticated refined reds and whites in the Piemonte to generous, cherry-driven reds in Tuscany, and big, bold reds in the south.
  • Germany – cool, impressively complex whites. Their Rieslings are some of the most underrated and undervalued wines in the world, and their reds are soft and sublime.
  • Spain a treasure trove of fantastic value, big-hearted winesWhite and red Riojas are world-class wines, and Ribero del Duero is full of classically styled reds that can age for decades.

Through hundreds of years of experience and experimentation, these nations have given the world a winemaking blueprint, especially when it comes to grapes. Bordeaux showed how Cabernet Sauvignon does best in poor, free-draining soils.  Burgundy showed Pinot Noir and Chardonnay’s love of limestone. Rioja and the Ribera del Duero showed how Tempranillo and Garnacha (Grenache) thrive in the heat. And Barolo and Barbaresco showed the world that Nebbiolo is a nightmare to get right anywhere!

Of course, as any architect will tell you, blueprints can be changed. And over the years new world winemakers have made a few alterations…

New World Wines

OK, can a nation that’s been making wines since 1659 be classed as ‘new’? That’s when South Africa started. Chile got its grape-crushing boots on in the late 1500s, and best international newcomer Australia started in 1788. While these nations may be deemed as ‘new’ they’ve been around long enough to know their own minds and wines.

‘New world wines are old world wannabes with more fruit, more alcohol and less character.’ So said a famous UK wine writer in the 1970s. He wouldn’t get away with saying that now. Having generally built their businesses producing ‘Sherry’ and ‘Sauternes’, new world wines now rank amongst the world’s finest.

They have taken the rulebook, torn pages out and written new ones. They’ve helped wine evolve and created their own distinctive national styles, which can broadly be described as: 

  • Australia – exceptional quality wines from pretty much every grape and style of wine.  Whites range from complex Burgundy-beating Chardonnays to sumptuous Semillons. Reds range from joyous Shiraz to delicate, precise Pinots.
  • New Zealand – reinvented Sauvignon Blanc with its explosive gooseberry and rhubarb wines. Then went on to prove it’s not only Burgundy that can make exquisite Pinot Noir. Oh, and their Rieslings, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnays can all be amazing.
  • Chile – the home of affordable fine wine, Chile’s seemingly endless range of sites can produce great Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot, and they’ve made Carmenere their own. Sophisticated but fun, serious but seriously enjoyable.
  • South Africa – another nation that can make all wines brilliantly. Their sparkling wines – Cap Classique – are beautifully made and full of flavour. Their Cabernets are serious affairs with generous fruit and great structures, while their Chenin Blanc ranges from zesty and fresh to succulently sweet.
  • Argentina – high-altitude Malbec with its combination of plum and blueberry fruit and incredible depth of flavour are awesome wines. Their Chardonnays balance freshness and weight, and they are making real waves with the voluptuous Viogniers.
  • USA – Californian Cabernets are like fine Bordeaux but less stuffy. Oregon Pinot Noirs are supple, richly fruited and amazingly complex. New York State’s Rieslings are weird and wonderful, with the emphasis on wonderful.

New world and old wines: Two become one

New world and old world wine producers have learnt from each other. Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs have become more fruit-driven. Australian Cabernet Sauvignon has become less raucous, more sedate and more nuanced. They’ve adopted each other’s ideas and given wine lovers the best of both worlds, which is, in a word, perfect.

Like to know more about wine?

We hope you’ve found this old world and new world wine guide useful. If you’d like to explore the world of wine, why not become a Perfect Cellar member? With our exclusive TastingBOXES, interactive tastings via Alexa, and an incredible range of fine wines, we have everything you need to enjoy finer wine. Perfect. 

You may also be interested in reading our more in-depth red wine guide, white wine guide and sparkling wine guide.

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