Old World versus New World

The wine world is divided into two main categories: The Old World (basically Europe and a part of the Middle East) and the New World (Chile, Argentina, the USA, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, to name the most representative).

One might raise an eyebrow knowing that some of the NW countries have been making wine for as long as 500 years. But compared to most of the OW ones, where the average winemaking history is about 3000 years – with the record being held by Georgia that can trace it back to an impressive 8000 years – they still look like infants.

The first spread of vine planting in Southern Europe was made by the Greeks at around 300 years BC, mostly to worship the God Bacchus. A second one was made by the Roman Empire throughout all of Europe (in Bordeaux for example), as when a Roman soldier was not too busy killing and enslaving he would live a sophisticated life and an important part of it was drinking wine; beer being “not a civilised drink”. About 300 years later Christians would incorporate wine in the Eucharist, thus improving quality; 1200 years later they would import vines to the colonies, starting in South America.

People on the old continent used to look down at the NW wines – despite Australian wines winning some awards as early as 1822 – until the Paris tasting of 1976 when some Californian Meritage (Bordeaux blend style) beat the top Bordeaux wines.

The main difference between these two “Worlds” could be surmised in one word: terroir. French in origin it is a declination from the word “terre” (earth), and terroir’s meaning is a combination of soil, climate, terrain and tradition. Having a longer history, the OW will obviously show more attachment to it’s terroir and stronger traditions, combined with generally a cooler climate than in the NW. While the NW produces fruitier and heavier wines, the ones of the OW are usually lighter in alcohol and more “earthy”.

NW production has fewes regulations than in the OW, hence more freedom and space for experimentation. For example, instead of marketing the region, NW wines started to market the grapes which are now widely followed around the world. They also developped a more modern viticulture which pushes the OW to modernise their techniques as well. This kind of globalisation makes partly the differences between these two worlds less and less obvious. There are also more and more exceptions of OW wineries making wines in the NW style and vice versa.

Note that NW countries, except the USA, are situated in the Southern Hemisphere so the harvest time is about six months earlier than in the Northern Hemisphere. Therefore the same vintage is half a year older.

There is still a debate about whether China can be considered an OW or NW country. China has thousands of years of history in making grape wine but the international grapes were not introduced until the late 19th century. Yet most of the wine production is in the Northern part of China and show some of the OW style with some terroir characteristics. 

Here are two examples from Portugal made in the NW style: single varietal, international grape and more fruit driven.

Herdade da Maroteira Cem Reis Alentejano Viognier 2013

100 percent Viognier, which is originally from North Rhône Valley, it shows a bright straw colour with a fresh bouquet of Jasmine, frangipane and white peach. Well balanced on the palate, medium body despite its 14 percent alcohol. Not as oily and mineral as a Condrieu but more citrusy with mandarin peel and pink grapefruit flavour, as well as honey wax and acacia. Long finish with a wet stone background and fresh acidity.

Herdade da Maroteira Cem Reis Alentejano Syrah Reserva 2013

100 percent Syrah, deep garnet colour with a very rich nose of ripe red cherry and violet, opening to blackberries, tobacco, humus and cappuccino. Full body wine with mellow tannins, flavour of ripe strawberry and leather at first, developing to cherry jam and old wood cut. Medium long and smooth aftertaste on cocoa bean. Powerful yet rather easy drinking with a masculine start and feminine finish. David Rouault

Wines available in some local supermarkets and at http://palatiumwines.com.

David Rouault is a professional classical musician, part time wine consultant and full time wine lover, holding WSET Level 3,
Certified Specialist of Wine and Introductory Sommelier diplomas. www.dionysos.com.mo

Categories World of Bacchus