New World vs. Old World Wine: What's the Difference?

Posted October 17, 2014

WineLibrary Staff


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If you are a budding wine geek trying to learn all you can about wine, inevitably you'll run into the phrase "old world" or "new world" to describe a particular wine's style. What do these terms mean?


On the map, it’s all simple

Well, if you simply apply these terms to geography, they’re easy to understand. As you might expect, "old world" mostly refers to European regions with centuries-old winemaking traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation. Wines made in this style are not much different from the wines made by the winemaker's ancestors.

In sharp contrast are wines made in "new world" regions such as the United States, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Generally speaking, wines made in these countries are more likely to adopt the Star Trek philosophy of "boldly going where no wine has gone before." Because there's no tradition to follow, winemakers tend to be more innovative and creative.


New world is big business

Still, there's a lot more to the old world vs. new world contrasts. In the past 30 or 40 years, influential wine critics with palates that appreciate new world styles have caused some European producers to move from the old style to the new. In particular, earlier drinkability, higher alcohol levels, softer tannins, and the use of new oak in fermentation and cellaring are a few examples that characterize the new world style.

For many European wineries, whose ultimate goal is to sell wine, using new world techniques in the vineyard and winery can be their ticket to wealth and success. It could mean the difference between an 85-point wine and a 95-point wine, and that could translate to a huge difference in sales.


Food friendly or not?

Another big difference between old world and new world wines is their ability to pair with food. As a general rule, old world wines have more acidity, which helps them cut through strong food flavors. On the other hand, many new world wines are built to win blind tasting competitions. They can be extremely attractive when tasted solo, but they might not integrate as well as many old world wines when paired with food.


Trust your palate

We want to stress that this is a general rule and you can always find a few exceptions. We won't even confuse the situation further by mentioning that some wines can be hybrids, containing both old world and new world characteristics (that’s another article for another day). Suffice it to say that as your wine experiences grow, all of this old world vs. new world stuff will become perfectly clear. Until then, we’re more than happy to help you tell the difference. Just email us and ask