Is New World vs Old World a redundant comparison?
Within the world of wine, the New World vs Old World dichotomy is a classic staple of discussion. But with the industry changing in so many nuanced ways – from global warming to globalisation - is this method of comparison a redundant one?
With wine regions that are labelled as ‘Old World’ defined as being where modern winemaking practices originated, ‘New World’ regions – where they are influenced by these modern practices, but have also allowed some creativity with them – can often be underestimated. As an argument for using the comparison, there are said to be general stylistic differences between the worlds, although there are always exceptions:
1. ‘Old World’ regions tend to create lighter bodied wines than ‘New World’
2. ‘New World’ wines often have a higher alcohol content
3. ‘Old World’ wines tend to have higher levels of acidity than ‘New World’
4. ‘New World’ wines often have more pronounced fruit aromas and a heavier use of oak, with ‘Old World’ leaning into more mineral flavours
However, looking at these comparisons it could be argued that these are essentially the contrasts between cooler climate and warmer climate wines. With many of the ‘Old World’ regions being situated in Europe, they do generally have cooler climates than newer regions; although, there is a rise in temperature all round due to global warming. This is just one of the reasons that there is increasing crossover in style, as well as globalisation – for example, with Central Otago in New Zealand producing Pinot Noir that is consistently comparable with Burgundy.
There would be much less controversy around this topic if there were not such bias attached to these terms. This is why it is so important to emphasise that the style of a wine is a separate factor from its quality; thus, although styles from different regions and climates may be distinct, there can be excellent quality examples of each. With bias still existing that promotes ‘Old World’ wines and styles as higher quality than ‘New World’, it can be seen how these labels might have become misleading at some point.
To this end, what is really implied by these terms?
There could be an argument for the phrases depicting a timeline of winemaking practices, as per the definitions outlined above. This is potentially a useful clarification. However, if the phrases are purely chronological, then there seems to be a blatant disregard for the world’s original wine producing countries. To use the phrase ‘Old World’ implies that these regions were the first to create wine, which is simply not the case. Countries such as Georgia and Israel have evidence of wine being embedded in their cultures for over 8,000 years, and these are not abandoned styles either: orange wine – which is becoming increasing on-trend – has its origins in Qvevri wines that have been produced in Georgia for centuries. We are also seeing an upwards surge of excellent quality wines from these countries re-entering our market, having been overlooked for a long time. Some enthusiasts have tried to rectify the misleading nominal ‘Old World’, with the use of the term ‘Ancient World’ to give credit to the oldest winemaking countries. If this is used, then Ancient World, Old World and New World begin to depict an accurate sequence of winemaking, hinting towards a history of wine.
To conclude, Old World vs New World is no longer a relevant comparison paradigm for the style or quality of wine, as there is so much variation within each region, due to global warming impacting temperatures and the globalisation of wine styles. The way in which the terms might still have relevance, is through a purely time-oriented lens. This could be the most accurate use of the phrasing, incorporating the term Ancient World in order to create a clear timeline.