Is Old World vs New World Still Relevant?

You cannot judge a book by its cover. Are you guilty at times of stereotyping? Making an assumption about someone or something based on your own misperceptions? I am guilty of this at times. How open-minded are you? Are you set in your understanding of things or are you willing to be proven wrong through new experiences? Though it is not fun to be a victim to someone else’s stereotypes it is fun to be shown just how wrong our perceptions, stereotypes and ideas can be in a gentle manner. At the 2015 Texas Sommelier Conference this past August I participated in a seminar filled with 100+ knowledgeable and experienced wine lovers (most of whom were sommeliers) demonstrating that sometimes education leads us to thinking we know more than we actually know.

old world wine image

There is an endless debate in the world of wine in regards to style. Which is better old world or new world? I have read countless articles discussing this subject and even written one myself, “Old World or New World: What’s Your Style.” Do you prefer a Napa Valley Cabernet or a Château Margaux Bordeaux? Do you prefer fruit driven, wines with hints of tobacco that are “delicious;” or do you prefer a herbal, graphite, mineral driven wine with a rustic edge? Do you know for certain when enjoying these two wines which one is new world and which one is old? Are you sure? In the class entitled Old World versus New World: Still Relevant, master sommeliers Devon Broglie (representing the new world) and Joseph Spellman (representing the old world) put our knowledge and taste buds to the test in a blind comparison tasting to determine the “new world/old world” status of eight wines. I will tell you my guesses were right in the line with the majority of the class which meant I scored about 50%, failing. Because it was a blind tasting I have no bottle shots or pretty pictures to share with you; therefore, I am using other people’s photos so you can still see the labels of the wines. I will share with you the names of the wines up front so you can enjoy the exercise without having to guess from my shabby notes which wine is new world and which wine is old world.

Flowers Sonoma Coast 2013 Pinot Noir: soft ruby with touch of violet, very floral, red and blue berries, touch of cola and mushroom, soft yet layered, round acidity, essence of Pinot Noir, very nice, 13.7% alcohol. Lovely new world style Pinot Noir.

Savigny-Lès-Beaune 1er Cru Les Peuillets 2011: deep ruby, darker red fruit, spice, earthy, complex, dry, acidity, tart on palate, more edgy tannins, 12.5% alcohol. Grand Vin Bourgogne. Quintessential Burgundy!


Badenhorst Family “Secateurs” 2014 Chenin Blanc Swartland South Africa: soft yellow, minerals, orchard fruit, tropical fruit,creamy texture, high acidity, lingering dry finish, touch of citrus, not overly aromatic, ripe on palate, strong minerality, 13.5% alcohol; deceptively old world for a new wolrd wine, winemaker uses “old world” techniques, minimal intervention, allows grapes to “do their thing.” SRP $15 ~ Wow! Must buy!

Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run 2013 Riesling Clare Valley Australia: soft gold, stone fruit, lanolin, mineral notes, brilliant, slate nose, citrus notes heavy on lime zest, apricot, light floral notes, lean and smooth, high acidity, bone dry, electric on the palate, 12.5% alcohol. SRP $22. Another Wow! Old world style Riesling from a new world country!

Orin Swift Locations E: deep red, ripe jammy fruit nose, spice, clove, cassis, leather, smoke, organic earth: dusty, savory herbs, dry, acidity, oak on palate, layers of flavor, predominately dark fruit marmalade, heavy tannins, slightly bitter finish; blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monstrell, and Carignan, 14.5%;  Old world wine crafted in a very new world style. SRP $19.99

Can Blau Cellars Montsant Spain: 40% Syrah, 40% Mazuelo (Carignan), 20% Garnacha; deep violet, nice viscosity, black cherries, black berries, black raspberries, fruit ripe but not over ripe, black pepper, violets, tobacco, touch of cinnamon and vanilla, cloves, green olives, coffee, round acidity, lingering tannins, dry, long finish, powerful earthiness, Old world but progressive. SRP $13.99

Wind Gap Sonoma Coast Syrah: deep violet, sweet red and black fruit marmalade, green olives, pepper, violets, licorice, savory mineral notes, tart on palate, dry tart finish, under-ripe fruit on palate, round acidity, high tannins, no new oak, new world winemaker deliberately crafting old world style wines, austere, intense, layered. Stunning wine! SRP $45.

Chateau Kirwan Grand Cru Classé 2011 Margaux: deep garnet, dark fruit, cherry, plum, black berry marmalade, leather, black tea, tobacco, vanilla, fruit turns tart on palate, organically earthy, wet soil, oak is pronounced on palate, high acidity, high tannis, very dry finish; Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot; 13.5% alcohol. SRP $67.00. Pronounced new world style from a very old world chateau.

In the end I do think the conversation is still relevant. However, it is important for us to understand the idea of “old world wines” and “new world wines” is not limited to geographic location. Moreover, in 2015 it is really more a question of wine making style. Each of these wines were enjoyed by the vast majority of 100+ wine lovers in the session. Not because of the old vs new style but because these wines were balanced. In the end, at least for me, a well-structured, well-balanced wine is a good wine no matter the cost, winery, grape or geography. Most of these wines fall in the affordablilty category and are available through online wine merchants. I strongly encourage you to branch out and try some or all of these wines. You will be glad you did!

Please share your thoughts with me regarding old world style and new world style wines. I would love to hear your perspective.

My Song Selection: Can you tell the difference in styles of music? Without Googling is this composition old world or new world?


10 responses to “Is Old World vs New World Still Relevant?”

  1. Perfect timing for my #winePW post this morning. Such an interesting topic of discussion – new world vs. old world. I will say in terms of Cab Franc, there is quite a difference of interpretation of what the grape is. The palates are different, but neither is better or worse. Just different.

  2. For me, even though there is a lot of lip service paid to “terroir” in California, there are very few wineries that produce wine that really possess flavor and aromatic elements of the soil from which the grapes come. I think that the vast majority of Cali bottlings are fruit driven, easy to drink young and really not all that complex. Whether that’s the winemaker’s choice or just the warmth and ripeness in Cali wine country i can’t say for sure. Now I realize that with some wines the complexity comes with age and there are wineries – especially some of the estates that have been around a while – that are beautifully complex. Maybe we don’t know what grows best where yet. After all, our wine industry is in it’s infancy when compared with Italy and France. Do we produce some world class wines? Of course, but maybe we still have a lot to learn about our grapes, our soil and our climate before we can really compare old world and new world. Great piece though!!

  3. There are wines made in the “New World” that are certainly informed by the “Old World” wine aesthetic (Wind Gap is a great example) and vice-versa. Certainly there are plenty of wines from France, Italy, and Spain that are targeting an “international” audience. Bottom line is that it’s too simplistic to believe that all the wines from Old World country like France, Italy , and Spain are made in the same style. Likewise for the New World. As Lori noted,,,,just a different style…one isn’t inherently better than the other in my book…

    • I agree that there are more fruit driven wines being made in old world countries and that there are no stylistic absolutes. But I still believe that vibrant fruit still dominates in the new world and that soil driven elements are more common in old world wines. Take Syrah for example. I’ve tried many new world Syrahs and none have come close to matching the complexity of northern Rhone Syrahs from the likes of Cote Rotie. Yes I know it’s the expensive wines from over there that usually bring the terroir but there are examples in the lower price points as well. But hey-everybody gets to drink what they like right? And most consumers def prefer the more fruit driven style.

  4. I guess it depends on preferences at that time/place and what you’re serving it with. That all said… Old world > New world. There’s so much of the soil that comes through that just can’t be replicated. IMHO that’s why new worlds are often fruit forward and Oaked – to give it intrigue the soil can’t.

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