The worlds of wine

Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, March 2011


Knowing if a wine is from the Old World or the New World is a clue to its style and will give you an idea of what to expect when you pour that first glass. If you understand the characteristics of wines that are literally produced worlds apart, you can be confident when you order a wine that its taste is something you will enjoy.

Old World wines come from the traditional wine-making regions in Europe, primarily France, Italy, Spain, Austria and Germany. Some sommeliers say wines from Bulgaria, Greece, and Croatia also fall under the Old World category although exports from those countries are limited. Old World wines tend to be subtle and refined, and most wine drinkers describe their flavors as “earthy.”

Wines from everywhere else are considered New World. The United States is a leading producer of New World wines along with Australia, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, and South Africa. These wines tend to be bolder and usually fruitier.

“Wine lovers are all walking through a forest,” says Keith Mullins, owner of Clermont’s Bacchus Vino, Etc., in Clermont. “The Europeans smell mushrooms and dirt in their wines. The Americans smell the leaves, flowers, and fruits.”

If the nose (smell) of an Old World wine doesn’t quite remind you of a rose garden, don’t be deterred. Most Old World wines, especially Italian wines, need to breathe for an hour or even longer. Once they do, the wines open up and create a mouthful of flavors ranging from spicy to herbaceous.

The World of Wine • Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style magazine, March 2011New World wines, especially those from California, are often described as “fruit bombs,” because the fruit flavors are very bold. Even neophyte wine drinkers can taste the lush flavors of plums, cherries, or blackberries.

Fruity doesn’t necessarily mean sweet, though. New World wines can be just as dry as a French Bordeaux and still have fruit undertones. Likewise, European wines can be very sweet.

Mullins says his top-selling Old World wine is a Moscato di Asti from Italy, which is sweet and bubbly.

“It’s popular because it is sweet and bubbly,” he says with a laugh. “Most first-time wine drinkers like sweeter wines.”

Mullins, who has operated his wine shop since 2004, sees American palates moving toward drier wines; however, sweeter wines still dominate what American consumers buy.

“As people learn more about wine, they tend to buy more medium-bodied ones,” he says. “Many wine drinkers are now buying Washington State Rieslings, which are drier than Rieslings from some other areas.”

The areas where grapes are grown are what distinguish Old World wines from the New World products. The French call it “terroir” and the wine will reflect the characteristics of its particular vineyard. The climate, amount of sun and rain, and type of soil all have an effect.

“It all starts in the vineyard,” says Mullins. “Grapes are very sensitive to the environment. They react to what Mother Nature is giving them.”

To learn the differences between Old World and New World wines and to develop your own tastes, Mullins recommends comparing wines produced from the same grape varietals but from different regions. For instance, try a French Bordeaux alongside Californian and South American Cabernets. Or compare Washington State and German Rieslings.

When comparing Old World and New World wines, it is much like the famous quote about friends: Make new ones, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold. Try both for a wealth of flavor possibilities.

Old World versus New World Wines

What do you prefer? Invite some friends for a wine-tasting party to discuss how the following wines made from similar grapes compare. Include some cheeses from the same regions to see how they accentuate the wines as well. Wines prices range from $18 to $21 a bottle at various wine merchants.

French White Burgundy vs. Chilean Chardonnay: Langoureau Blanc, St. Aubin (France) vs. Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay Cuvee Alexandre (Chile)

French Red Burgundy vs. American Pinot Noir: Bart Marsannay Les Champs Salomon Côtes de Nuits (France) vs. Benton Lane Pinot Noir (Oregon)

German Riesling vs. New Zealand Riesling: Johannishof Riesling Kabinett V, Rheingau (Germany) vs. Villa Maria Riesling (Marlborough, New Zealand)

Italian Chianti vs. California Sangiovese: Viticcio Chianti Classico (Italy) vs. Ferrari-Carano Siena Sangiovese (Sonoma Valley, California)

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