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Old World vs. New World Wines
Dare to Compare

One of the most endlessly discussed topics in the wine world is the stylistic difference between "Old World Wines," primarily from France, Italy, Spain and Germany, and "New World Wines" primarily from the United States, Australia and South America.

Old World wines are all about tradition and terroir. Terroir is a French word that, loosely translated, means "a sense of place" . European wines are all about the soil and climate in which they are grown. Most, rather than being named for the grape variety that produces them, they are named for the region, area or even village where they are produced. Hence, a Chardonnay from France might be a Chablis, a Pouilly Fuisse or a White Burgundy, named for the village where it was produced, like Chassagne-Montrachet. Each area or region attempts to maintain its own traditional wine making style style. Overall, old world wines are traditionally designed for food, with lower alcohol contents, higher acidity and less forward-fruit than their new world counterparts.

New World wines stress their varietal heritage. So a Chardonnay from Napa Valley may be stylistically similar to one from the Hunter Valley in Australia, but dramatically different from a White Burgundy from France (also Chardonnay). Many of our winemakers train at the University of California Davis Viticulture School, while fathers in Burgundy still train their sons to make wine from the tiny vineyard holdings that have been passed down through a dozen generations or more. Overall, New World wines tend to be riper and bolder, with higher alcohol levels and more forward fruit than the European wines. America and Australia, and to a slightly lesser degree South America and South Africa, tend to make more wines that stand alone well, or as Britain's Decanter Magazine condescendingly refers to them as "cocktail wines". And, the reality is that while European tradition intends wine to be paired with food, a new generation of wine drinkers are more likely to serve Chardonnay as a cocktail before rather than with dinner.

Just to confuse things, the styles are starting to blur. A number of American importers are developing wines, mostly from Spain and Southern France, that are made in very new world styles. More about that another day. Just suffice to say, if it comes from Spain or Southern France, has 14.5% alcohol, is under $15 and has a Wine Advocate 90 point score, don't expect old world style.

Here is an idea for your next party. Conduct a New World vs. Old World wine tasting. Select five or six New World wine varietals and match them up with their European counterpart. Here are some ideas...

Match a California Chardonnay with a Chablis or Pouilly Fuisse from France.

A California or Chilean Sauvignon Blanc with a French Sancerre or Pouilly Fume.

An Australian Shiraz with a Cote Rotie or a Saint Joseph from the Northern Rhone Valley. A California Sangiovese with an Italian Chianti.

A California or Australian Cabernet Sauvignon with a Cabernet based French wine from Bordeaux.

An Oregon Pinot Noir with a French Red Burgundy.

Or, try a Australian Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvedre blend against a good Chateauneuf du Pape from France.

And, for even more fun taste some of the wines before you serve any food and then taste them again over dinner. Trust me, it will surprise you.