7 Mar

MOTW: World Wine Regions

By Alexandra Kicior

People often classify wine as “new world” or “old world,” which originally served to describe taste in wine. Recently, the Court of Masters Sommeliers announced they would no longer be using the terms in blind tastings. The origin of these terms is not about “worlds” as much as it is about winemaking traditions in different regions of the world. 

Old World wine tends to have a lighter body, lower alcohol, higher acidity, and less fruity flavor with more minerality. New World wine tends toward a fuller body, high alcohol, lower acidity, and pronounced fruit flavors. These differences are similar to those of cool and warm climate wines, but there are some exceptions and therefore these connections are not so straightforward. Italy is considered Old World, but there are some hot spots there making rich, fruity wines. Canada, in the same regard, is not much but cool climate. 

The definition of Old World wine regions refers to the areas where modern winemaking traditions first originated. In reference to the old world, the operative word is “influence.” These are the places that exported wines, grapes, winemakers, and traditions to other countries. France, for example, is the origin place of grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, which are often referred to as “international varieties.” France’s best blends (Bordeaux, Champagne, etc.) have defined what makes a balanced wine for hundreds of years, shaping the tastes of winemakers all over the world. Italy’s winemaking influence has spread far, particularly to California. Other Old World wine countries include Portugal, Spain, Germany, Hungary, and Croatia. 

“New World” refers to those countries and winemakers that borrowed traditions from other countries to initiate their own. More often than not, this occurred alongside colonization. The colonizers, who were European, brought their winemaking traditions with them. Over time, through circumstance and creativity, they got rid of many old ways and created new ones so that New World wine could be born. Several countries in South America, for example, have taken French wines like Malbec and Carménère and made them originally their own. New Zealand has transformed France’s Sauvignon Blanc into a wealth of tropical fruit. These regions and countries, in addition to North America, Australia, South Africa, and China, have mimicked wines from the Old World and then innovated. 

Neither the Old World nor the New World are the originators of wine itself. The “Ancient World” refers to where Vitis vinifera originated in far-Eastern Europe. Today, this area is an expanding wine region that is invigorating its ancient varieties and borrowing winemaking techniques from both the past and present. The countries described as Ancient World would include Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Georgia, Palestine, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Cyprus, and Greece. While these countries are not as well known for their wine in a modern context, one cannot deny the importance of their winemaking practices.