If you are a newcomer to the weird and wonderful world of wine, you may at some point in your voyage of discovery encounter the terms ‘Old World’ and ‘New World’. You would be forgiven for thinking that these terms relate to age, or vintage, or something even more obscure. I found myself wondering whether ‘Old World’ was perhaps something to do with medieval times. Or the Romans. Or the Aztecs. Even though I was also fairly certain there’s no such thing as Aztec wine.
Unsurprisingly, I was very wrong. However, after some detailed research and the appropriate amount of tasting (just to draw comparisons and really cement my comprehension of these terms, you understand) I discovered that New World wines are in fact one of my favourite things in the world. And I would love to tell you all about them.
New World vs Old World
Essentially, ‘New World’ and ‘Old World’ describe the geographical area where the wine in question is made. Which, when you think about it, makes a lot more sense than Aztecs.
The Old World is those countries and regions where winemaking first originated and has been a tradition for thousands of years. It’s largely European-based, with the main spots being France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, right through to the less well-known such as Moldova and Armenia.
New World, in comparison, refers to the places where winemaking is a more modern pursuit. Wine production techniques and grapevines were exported to other regions during the Age of Discovery, where intrepid Europeans spent a lot of time and money discovering, you guessed it, new worlds (and then generally trying to enslave them … but that’s another story). Now, the New World is where all my favourite wines hail from; America, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, South America (particularly Chile and Argentina), even India and Japan.
Although the same varieties of grape are often used, New and Old World wines tend to differ in taste and appearance. This is due to a number of factors such as winemaking methods and terroir (the effect that the climate and soil type has on the grapevines). New World wines usually taste more ripe and fruity, with good body and less acidity than their French or Spanish counterparts … delicious.
Here’s a look at a few of my favourite New World regions and why you should look further than the ‘France’ section next time you’re presented with a wine menu.
Winemaking began here in the early 19th century and has gone from strength to strength ever since, with New Zealand now one of the most renowned New World countries on the map. And oh my, it’s earned it. The maritime climate (no grape grows further than 70 miles from the coast) and crystal-clear air create stunning growing conditions throughout the nation’s 12 distinct regions; from Waikato, the Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay on the North Island to Waipara Valley and Central Otago in the South.
If nothing else, you are probably familiar with the good old Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – unsurprising, as this variety of wine accounts for a whopping 72% of all production in New Zealand and is praised by many wine critics as being perhaps the best in the world.
However, I urge you, I beg you, to look beyond this admittedly excellent Savvy B to some absolutely triumphant alternatives, both red and white.
Gisborne, for example, offers a great line in premium Chardonnay, whilst Canterbury and the Waipara Valley are doing a storming trade in Riesling and Pinot Noir; wines as beautiful as the enchanting environments where they are created.
My highlight, however, has to be the perfect, punchy and full-bodied Pinot Noirs that come out of Central Otago, the most southerly of the Kiwi wine regions (and, in fact, the most southerly in the entire world!). These wines are brave and bold, brimming with confidence and packed with some of the best flavours south of the equator. I’d go so far as to say that Otago Pinot Noir is my all-time favourite wine – just try it once and you’ll understand why.
Believe it or not, America is now the fourth-biggest wine producer in the entire world, behind only France, Italy and Spain. It’s been manufacturing our favourite beverage for over 300 years and has vineyards and wineries in every single state.
It’s not always been an easy ride – American wine experienced a rather significant setback in the 1920s thanks to Prohibition, which very nearly killed the entire industry. However, luckily for them (and us) and thanks to some innovative new production methods and dedicated vineyards, winemaking recovered and is now in fine form. Today, over 800 million gallons of wine is made here each year, most of which is exported to the UK, Canada, and Germany, amongst others.
California is undoubtedly the most significant grape-growing area of America; this state alone produces a massive 90% of all wine made in the US. Famous regions include Napa and Sonoma Valley, as well as Sacramento and the Sierra Foothills. The best place to start when exploring California is with a glossy, unctuous Red Zinfandel (good from any region), perhaps moving on to a Syrah from Sonoma … or, if you’re feeling daring, why not head over to Napa and sample some of their world-famous rosés.
However, let’s not forget the fifty-something other states who all have something to offer … the Walla-Walla region (yes, really) in Washington State produces some of the best Syrah in the whole country, whilst Lake Erie in Pennsylvania creates outstanding Rieslings that give the French alternatives a run for their money.
We all know and love the classic Argentinian Malbec, with its well-earned reputation for robust, juicy flavours (it’s utterly delicious). However, wine is produced on a vast scale all across South America, from Chile and Brazil to Uruguay, with each having a huge amount to offer.
Although it is considered New World, wine has been produced in South America since the 1500s (although all evidence I could find pointed to these early attempts being really rather unpleasant) and that heritage resonates in the hearty flavours and fine wines we see today.
Chile, for example, is the 9th biggest wine producer in the world and is famed for a cracking variety of Cabernet Sauvignon that’s not dissimilar from that grown in Bordeaux. Uruguay, meanwhile, regards Tannat as its ‘national grape’ and uses it to create some great blends with Merlot and Pinot Noir – this one is well worth a try, so why not treat yourself to Rude Wines’ 2009 Alto de la Ballena Tannat Merlot Cabernet Franc? With delectable red berry and cherry notes, it’s the perfect first foray into Uruguayan wine.
So, there you have it. Regardless of whether you favour a punchy South African Pinotage, a vibrant New Zealand Riesling or even something completely out there like a Chenin Blanc from the Nandi Hills in India, my beloved New World wines offer energy, excitement and quality to match the best of France and Italy. Go out, explore … and above all, enjoy.
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