New World wines

In previous posts we have mentioned the turning point in terms of international recognition for Californian wines, members of the so-called New World, and today we are going to examine the characteristics of these wines in more detail, comparing them with European (or Old World) wines. There are many angles to cover.

The first, logically, is to make the geographical distinction.  The Old World is concentrated in Europe, in countries that enjoy a long history of winemaking.  

You could mention Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, the Balkans, also the UK (Brexit notwithstanding), as it is a noteworthy producer of sparkling wines.  This group could also include other countries on the geographical limits, such as Georgia (probably the birthplace of modern wine) or even the Middle East in countries like Israel and Lebanon.  

New World Wines - California - Bodegas Montecillo

The New World, however, is concentrated on the American continent, although the norm is to include any country with a winemaking tradition of less than 500 years. Therefore this category also includes South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

But beyond their mere location, it is possible to talk about stylistic differences, even when it comes to packaging, as, for example, in Oceania it is common to find wines costing 50 dollars or more that are bottled under screw-cap, something that is unthinkable, for now, at least, in Europe.

The European style is characterised by wines of more subtle colours, which are silky and elegant, multi-faceted rather than powerful, with notable acidity, balance, alcohol levels below 15º and a well-integrated style. They are fresh wines.

New World wines, however, tend to be the opposite: with intense colours, more noticeable new wood, ripe fruit, medium acidity, exuberant tannins, concentration and higher alcohol. They are warm wines.

However, this is a great generalisation, as we can now find wines that fall into both of these categories all over the world, due to the huge commercial pressure to gain market share.  For example, in the Levant, along Spain’s Mediterranean coast, the description given for New World wines is very relevant.

The differences are growing smaller, but, at the end of the day, if we are talking about typical examples with a common core, then the aforementioned distinctions can’t be ignored.

Many of these factors are due to inevitable climatic factors, as Europe tends to have a much cooler climate (Champagne, Burgundy, Switzerland, the Mosel) than the climates that we find in New World winemaking regions.  

New World Wines - Chile - Bodegas Montecillo

In fact, when they want to make a fresher style of wine in these countries they use high altitude vineyards, as is the case in Chile and Argentina.

Even so there is also an almost philosophical slant to both stances and it is that Old World producers usually seek to be in balance with the terroir, trying to integrate all the factors that intervene into the typical nature of the final product.  They (normally) seek singularity.  

That’s why in Europe the region is more important than the grape variety.  When you ask for a wine it is common to request it by region (“I want a Rioja or a Ribera del Duero”) or by the winery (“a Montecillo, please”) or, in Spain, even by the type of ageing (“I’ll have a Reserva”).

In the New World this is not so important, and they seek to differentiate by the type of grape (“I want a Chardonnay”), in fact, there are flagship varieties for each country.  For example, Pinotage was created in South Africa as a hybrid of the French grapes Pinot Noir and Hermitage.

Some of these flagship grapes include:

  • California – Zinfandel
  • Chile – Carmenere (this grape happens to have an interesting history as until very recently it was thought to be Cabernet Sauvignon, that’s to say, its emblematic varietal is down to fate)
  • Argentina – Malbec
  • Uruguay – Tannat
  • Australia – Shiraz
  • New Zealand – Sauvignon Blanc
  • South Africa – Pinotage

Let’s continue with the differences.  The next factor is much more objective, it is that the production regulations in the New World are much more lax than in Europe, in almost all aspects.

In Europe, there are substantial regulations about factors like plantation density, permitted grape varieties and yields, winemaking methods, ageing, types of bottles, the information contained on the labels … in the New World the regulations tend to be considerably more flexible and give more freedom to producers.

Really this is due to the fact that in Europe, the multiple centuries of tradition weigh heavier than anything else; in fact, this could be a good explanation behind everything we have seen.  

Now it is your turn to put these theories to the test by tasting wines from both worlds.

The practical part is undoubtedly the most fun. With wine you can travel far, quickly, and at an affordable price.

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