Old World vs. New World Wine
A debate that has been raging in the wine world for many years now is over the differences between wines coming from the Old World as opposed to those of the New World. As is typical with controversial subjects, emotions can run high and skew the facts – wine is all about passion, after all!
Old world wines come from the “classic wine making regions” in Europe. New world wines come from everywhere else. The Old World can generally date their origins of wine production back to the Roman Empire and sometimes beyond this to the Greeks, Phoenicians and ancient Iberians. Naturally, this heritage simply cannot be contested by New World producers – over this 2000-3000 year period growers gradually discovered which grapes grew best in a given area, whilst also developing nearly all the grape varieties we know today. The collapse of the Western Roman Empire resulted in many vineyards being vacated, and so by natural selection those which managed to survive became many of the grapes still grown today.
Obviously the growers from these regions-Germany, Austria, France, Italy and Spain have much pride in this viticultural heritage. Many growers are descended from families who have been toiling in vineyards for many generations. One downside to this attitude is perhaps that it fosters a little complacency, whilst the burden of tradition might at times stifle innovation. New World wines have changed all of this, fiercely competing with the Old World with new techniques and approaches.
New World growers come from Australia, America, South Africa, New Zealand and Latin America. Making up for lost time, these growers have developed radical new approaches and technologies to ensure good quality standards. Much of the struggle has been to find out which grape varieties grow best in an entirely new terroir, though new approaches make up for this in part. These include advanced irrigation systems, a reliance on oak and adding various natural compounds to the wine (the chemistry is very secretive!).
One thing is certain – New World growers have produced very good wine, and often it is of excellent value. Latin American, Australian and South African wine is often particularly inexpensive for the sheer quality of the wine. A more stable Southern Hemisphere helps keep vintages consistent, though some wine drinkers believe that this homogeneity means the wines are less interesting and lose their annual characteristics. Others argue that New World wines do not effectively translate the terroir the vines were grown in – by removing this element of the earth much of the interest in wine is reduced for some.
Despite a marked haughtiness, Old World producers are nevertheless being forced to take notice. Australian wine has totally displaced French wine as the top import to Great Britain and many traditional makers are employing some new techniques to guarantee a better, more marketable product. This is not entirely a bad thing – France has a tendency to produce surplus amounts of substandard wine, the so-called ‘wine lake’ that plagues the EU. Millions of bottles are turned into industrial alcohol each year.
Ultimately, so long as Old World producers do not lose their unique personalities and affinity with time-hallowed terroir then New World influence can only benefit the consumer; however, there is some concern that the big, bold and fruity wines of the New World are displacing more complex, rustic wines in certain localities as producers try and compete with their foreign competitors. The extent to which this poses a problem has attracted much heated controversy!