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Additional articles BY COURTNEY COCHRAN



What's Old Is New

Answers to the Old World-New World Debate


Anyone who’s studied wine in books or in a formal wine course has probably heard of the Old World/New World debate. Based on the idea that wines from Europe (the Old World) are inherently different from those produced everywhere else (the New World), the debate has raged for years between lofty connoisseur types bent on drawing a stylistic divide between the two.

And even though recent events hint that the distinction is actually much less pronounced than previously thought, the debate rages on.

Why the debate in the first place?

Old World 411
Europe is the cradle of modern day winemaking thanks to extensive vine plantings there back in the days of the Roman Empire. Thousands of years of experience have helped European winemakers to identify ideal plots for growing these vines (e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot fare best in France’s Bordeaux, and Nebbiolo produces amazing wine in Italy’s Piedmont).

Because grape vines planted in ideal plots produce grapes with the best expression, it follows that wines made from these grapes can be outstanding. And because many of these plots are rich in complex minerals, it comes as no surprise that the best Old World wines tend to be fabulously complex.

New World Takes a Stand
Cut to the New World. Encompassing regions colonized by Europeans over the past few centuries, New World wine regions include South Africa, the USA, Australia and South America. With the European settlers came vine cuttings and, ultimately, vineyards and thriving wine industries in these places.

But matching grape varieties to their ideal plots in any new place takes time. Very much a process of trial and error, this matching is still underway in many New World wine regions. It’s why a single region in South Africa may make wine from dozens of grape varieties, even though one or two are probably best suited to its land: winemakers there are hard at work trying to figure out which ones they are!

Changes Underway
As time passes and New World producers get better and better at matching vines to their ideal plots, the wines coming out of these regions are improving dramatically. One need only look to New Zealand – a brand spanking new wine region by historical standards – and the outstanding Pinot Noir produced there lately to see that success is already on the New World’s doorstep. With its mineral-rich complex soils, New Zealand is turning out wines that rival those of Europe.

Besides these changes, global warming is also narrowing the stylistic divide between Old and New World wines. Because much of winemaking Europe is colder than New World wine regions, wines produced there have generally been lighter in body and had higher levels of acidity. These factors are considered desirable in fine wines since they lend them balance.

With the onset of global warming, however, Europe is warming up. As a result, its wines are becoming more full-bodied and have lower levels of acidity than they’ve had in the past. In a word, they’re resembling New World wines more than ever before. All of which leads me to thumb my nose at lofty connoisseur types who insist on continuing the debate.

And besides, life’s too short; I’d rather be drinking wine.

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