By accepted definition, “Old World” wines are those that come from the long-established winemaking countries of Europe — primarily Italy, France and Germany, although some would include countries of the Near East and North Africa in the definition.
“New World” wines are those produced in countries with shorter winemaking histories, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand and South America.
But it’s not just about geography. It’s also about style.
In the vineyards and cellars of Europe, tradition is huge. The varieties of grapes planted, the blends of varieties allowed, and even the aging regimen may be regulated by long-standing guidelines and laws. Not much is left to chance, and the ultimate quality of each wine depends largely on the whims of Mother Nature — whether she allows the weather at harvest time to enable the grapes to ripen fully.
The Old World style is very much driven by “terroir,” to use the French term that describes all of the environmental factors that impact any given microclimate. A majority of the vintners seek to present a “liquid picture” of a given place in a given year, and that’s why the “natural wine” movement has its roots in the Old World. The idea is that the farmer and the winemaker should intervene as little as possible in the process.
In contrast, New World winemakers are not bound by hundreds of years and numerous generations of tradition, nor by strict blending or aging guidelines. As a result, their wines tend to be more fruit-driven in flavor (favored by many contemporary wine drinkers), and also tend to be quite versatile as companions to food. Filtering typically is used to help minimize the “earth-like” flavors found in many Old World wines.
Which style do I prefer? It really depends, because I rarely drink wine unless it’s part of a meal, and matching the wine to the meal is one of my favorite hobbies. At my house, a gamey meat such as venison would call for an Old World wine, while a dish with a less-assertive flavor would most often be accompanied by a New World wine.
Which style do you prefer? There’s only one way to find out: through experimentation.