It sounds like something from Lord of the Rings. 'This wine is from the Old World'.
I'm sure like most people you've heard this phrase muttered and wondered WTF does that mean and why is it even important?
Good news is, it's not that important to your enjoyment of wine. Plus once you've had it explained the concept is super simple.
Fundamentally wines made on the European continent are all wrapped up in the Old World moniker. Countries with thousands of years of history like France, Italy and Spain.
Wines that originate from countries with only a couple of centuries of history, such as Australia, the USA and New Zealand are the ones referred to as New World.
What's the difference?
Old World wines are the benchmark. They are the old guard. The wise old prophets.
They tend to carry flavours and aromas that are not indisputable. 'Structure' and 'balance' take precedence. That's another way of saying these wines have savoury and rustic types of flavours. Ever been to the zoo? Take a big whiff of Old World wine and you might have a flashback to the zebra enclosure.
New World wines are those we are used to in Australia. Typically slurp-able thanks to their freshness they are seldom subtle, with a big lean towards fruit driven flavours. Not too many zebra's here. These are clean cut looking and tasting.
Why are they different?
Chiefly due to winemaking philosophy and style.
Old World winemakers tend to follow tradition. Many harvest by the cycles of the moon. A lot make the wines exactly the same way year on year to ensure the same light touch is applied consistently. Their aim is true expression of the earth and season in the bottle, with minimal intervention by the hand of man.
New World winemakers are said to take a much more analytical approach to their craft. Somewhat science based. Without the restrictions of strict tradition, grapes are harvested at the measured optimum ripeness. Wineries may use specially produced natural additives for control and predictability. And perhaps most influential, New World wineries tend to employ strict sanitation during production to prevent the influence on flavour and aroma of any unknown yeasts or bacteria.
Another major difference is the labelling.
Old World wines elevate the vineyard or region of origin above the variety and even the winery itself. Their laws specify the grape varieties allowed to be grown in each different region. By knowing the vineyard, or the winery, the variety is established without having to say so.
These laws don't apply in the New World giving winemakers freedom to grow the varieties they want wherever they choose. Promoting the Winery and the variety first is the established routine.
New World is clean, fresh, crisp and consistent. Pinot Noir.
Old World is complex, funky and interesting. Gevrey-Chambertin.