By Troy Knapp
As complicated as wine can be, there are two major categories into which most wine fits, and with an understanding of this simple concept comes a better comprehension of what to expect from the diverse world of wine.
I know it sounds almost too easy, right? It all comes down to this simple fact: Does the wine come from the Old World or the New World? Sommeliers use this question in their repertoire to help them identify what a particular person’s palate is partial to and discover what may pair with a specific dish.
The Old World, as applies to wine, consists of: Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Austria and many other wine regions in Europe. When wine is made classically from the Old World, it will display some aromatics that are associated with the earth. Whites from these regions typically have a strong foundation of minerality. An underlying commonality of chalk, stone, wet stone, slate, or even oyster shells from the soil can give a presence of synergy with the land. Old World reds can display notes of tobacco, mushroom, forest floor, soil and even a dampness quality that is primary to floral- and fruit-driven qualities and naturally finish dryer than their New World counterparts.
The New World consists of: USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and South America’s regions of Chile and Argentina. Due to a modern style of wine and warmer climate, a higher perception of fruit and a touch of residual sugar may be present, all contributing to a fuller mouth feel and perceived sweetness. Some may display subtle earthy notes, however they are secondary to the fruit characteristics.
Now, there is always an exception. You can have a New World wine made by a producer with a respect for the Old World or an Old World producer making a wine that is engineered to lure the palates of those who prefer a New World style — it depends on the market. It’s a matter of the manipulation, or lack thereof, during the winemaking process that can make these differences. If you seek out wine that is more traditionally made, then it is more likely to hit the classic markers. Your local wine shop specialist or restaurant sommelier can assist you with this.
I personally gravitate towards Old World or cooler climate New World wines when pairing with food. The body and alcohol are typically a little lower with the acidity being a little higher; these attributes relate well with food. When the weather cools, a New World wine can really hit the spot and can be preferred when drinking without a meal as they can be rich, unctuous (without being overly sweet) and full-bodied.
Ready to taste the difference? Try a well-made New World wine versus a classically made Old World wine of the same grape variety side by side.
Here are some examples to try:
- New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc vs. White Bordeaux or Sancerre
- Domestic Pinot Gris/Grigio vs. the same from Northern Italy or Alsace France
- Domestic or Australian Riesling vs. the same from Germany or Alsace France
- Domestic Chardonnay vs. White Burgundy
- Australian Shiraz vs. Northern Rhone Syrah
- Californian Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Left Bank Bordeaux
- Domestic Merlot vs. Right Bank Bordeaux
- California Pinot Noir vs. Red Burgundy
Tasting them in a blind format will eliminate any preconceived notions, so place the bottles in brown paper bags and mix them up. Can you decipher which is which?
More importantly, you’ll be able to identify which one you prefer. Wine is all about personal preference and utilizing this tip will certainly help you in understanding what you like. Next time you are ordering a bottle to accompany a nice dinner, you can simply say, “I am looking for a red from the Old World.” You’ll have easily narrowed it down to a selection that is more likely to please your palate, because “”old” and “new” can make a world of difference.
Troy Knapp is executive chef at the Hyatt Hill Country as well as a certified sommelier.