Location, location, location. Of course its true for real estate, but wine?
When people talk about where wine grows, you often hear the term “terroir.” Terroir encompasses a huge range of growing factors: soil, amount of sun, weather patterns, water availability, slope of the vineyards, etc. In other words, truly understanding a particular terroir can be almost overwhelming.
Instead, lets look at a more palatable concept. Old world versus new world. A relatively simple idea, we are simply classifying wine into the part of globe it originates from, the style it reflects. Most importantly, what does any of this mean when I pour myself a glass?
Old world predominantly refers to Europe and encompasses the idea that wine essentially comes from tradition and terroir. Grape varieties have been cultivated by generations on a particular hillside. Individual European countries have embraced these traditions by creating distinct regulations in order for wines to be labeled accordingly.
For example, calling a wine a “Chianti Classico DOCG” means the Italian government attests that the wine has been made following all the rules. The title means it has the correct percentages of Sangiovese grapes, is aged the appropriate amount of time in both barrel and bottle, and comes from a particular area of Italy. If the same wine is made just outside the Chianti Classico region, it can no longer wear that name. Similarly, the predominant names on the bottles of Old World wines are the location, regulation title and the wine producers.
Other common growing regions, such as the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa, are considered new world. The locale is important, no doubt, but so is the science and the skill of a particular winemaker. Each producer might be more likely to experiment with different grapes and techniques. New world countries are much less inclined to have defining rules as to how a wine should be made. The labeling process also reflects this flexibility by often listing wines by their grape varietal instead of simply saying “Napa” and expecting us to know what that means.
Let’s get down to tasting the difference. Generally speaking, old world wines come across the palate, can I say, older? They are likely earthier with more minerality. Often, they feel a bit more refined. New world wines tend to lead with their fruit, reflecting brighter, sometimes brasher flavors. Without the strict regulations, they are often blended a bit more and show more experimentation. On the palate, the differences in old and new come across like Olympic ski racing verses hucking off cliffs. Same sport, but different beasts.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Head on down to your local wine shop. A great example is the sangiovese grape. Look for bottles labeled Chianti in the Italian section. Then wander to domestic wines and try to find a sangiovese from California. Both Niner Wines and Valley of the Moon make great examples. I love to taste test without seeing which is which. Have some friends over, make a simple pasta and salad, and ask yourself: Which wine is headed for the cliff band?