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Understanding wine lingo: Old World vs New World

Old World and New World wine regions represent two distinct styles and traditions in the world of winemaking, each characterised by unique geography, history, and winemaking practices.

Old World wine regions encompass the classic wine-producing areas of Europe, including France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Portugal. These regions have a long history of winemaking dating back centuries, with established appellations, strict regulations, and often a focus on terroir – the specific characteristics of the land where the grapes are grown. Old World wines tend to emphasize subtlety, complexity, and a sense of place, with a greater emphasis on earthy and mineral flavors. Traditional grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir dominate Old World vineyards.

On the other hand, New World wine regions refer to areas outside of Europe, including countries like the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina. These regions are often characterized by a more experimental approach to winemaking, with a focus on innovation, technology, and marketing. New World wines typically exhibit riper fruit flavours, higher alcohol content, and more pronounced oak influence compared to their Old World counterparts. Winemakers in New World regions often have more freedom to experiment with grape varieties, blending techniques, and production methods.

However, more than ever, the lines between the two are being blurred. Many wine makers of the Old World are rejecting the confines of tradition and appelation regulations in order to experiment like their New World counterparts. Borgogno's "No Name" Nebbiolo is a great example of this. Declassified by Barolo's regulatory commission due to its "stylistic differences" compared to other wines of the appellation, the winery embraced its newfound style instead of making a wine recognised with Barolo DOCG status. Through rejecting the regulations of appellation, they've created an incredible nebb of cult-status, that allows for innovation and difference.

On the other hand you have winemakers in the New World who are looking to create wines that mimmick (often incredibly well) the style of the Old World. Famous for having one of the best palates in the world, California-based winemaker Rajat Parr is making Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that are heavily inspired by Burgundian winemaking, often fooling industry professionals in blind tastings into calling "warm vintage Montrachet!". 

Other New World winemakers are focusing even more on the traditionally Old World concept of "Terroir" - a fancy French word that describes "a sense of place". Although the New World doesn't have the same level of specificity in terms of appellations and regulations, many winemakers are choosing to become more nuanced in terms of defining their terroir(s). What was once "Wine of Australia" is now in some cases a wine of a sole, specific vineyard. 

The debate between the Old and New World will surely continue as long as winemaking is alive and well. It's likely that lines will continue to blur, as New World winemakers look to tradition, the Old World gets itchy feet and looks to innovate, and the rest stick to their guns.


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