Stuck in the Middle?

Stuck in the Middle?

What defines a region as either “Old World” or “New World?” In most wine maps France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, and Portugal are highlighted as “Old World.” Sure, these regions have been making wines for a thousand years or more. Is there more than that? By contrast the US, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina have been only making wines for a few hundred years. They are much younger, by comparison, in their experience and knowledge of viticulture. But wait!

On May 24th, 1976, Steven Spurrier, an Englishman, organized a tasting of the top California wines against top French wines. You all have seen the movie Bottle Shock to remember the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon that had out-shined the French offerings. Last question to pose: What do you call the regions of the world that produce wine that are neither “Old” nor “New World?” Stuck in the middle! Let’s unpack this a little and pull out the highlights, as the deep dive would probably fill novels. (plural).

Is it the length of time that makes the Old World vs. New World distinctions? Yes, but that is only part of the answer. There are families that have held on to proprieties for multiple generations. For example, in Tuscany, the Baroned Ricasoli Winey has been producing wines for 875 years, and the 32nd generation is at the helm. There may be older ones in the world but this one is hard to compare to. Over time, these winemaking practices have evolved, incorporating each year’s knowledge into the next generation’s database to perfect winemaking. The current vintage is 2019 of the Barone Ricasoli Brolio Reserva Chianti Classico.

Let us consider that making wine really does start in the vineyard. In general, Old World regions are just a little cooler than New World regions. What does this do to grape development? There are three velocities to consider: the velocity of producing sugar, the velocity of developing phenolics (flavors, tannins, color, other chemicals), and the velocity of the depleting acid. At some point, the winemaker SNAPS and the harvest is called. Consider, the cooler the region, the slower sugar develops. Less sugar lends to lower alcohol by volume as the yeast has less to eat. The development of sugar adds body weight and plushness, meaning old world wines are leaner. The broader the difference between night and day temperatures (diurnal swing), the slower the acidity deplete. Higher acidty in wines lends to fresher flavors and more food-friendliness in wines also add to balance and ageability. Each varietal has an its own velocity of developing flavors, tannins, color, aromas that seems to be a little independent of climate. So, if the growing season is extended, as in a cooler climate, the grapes have time, and harvest happens at the vision of the winemaker with more restraint and subtleties. 

The concept of terroir is Old World, and it has to do partially with climate, soil composition, day/night temperatures, amounts of rain, and the fact the fruit (then wine) reflects the unique characteristics of the region. There is a human element in the definition of terroir that determines the yield per hector, the point of when to harvest, the way the fruit is vinified and aged—all under specific guidelines. All is done to show that the wine is of a particularly esteemed quality level, and that the customer can depend on that, give quality wine before plunking down dollars for purchase.

In the winery, general production methods will be different between Old World and New World. Generally, the Old World will approach barrel aging as an instrument of resting wine to integrate flavors already there. The barrel may also impart flavors, but not necessarily the first thing you notice. This is accomplished by using French Barrels that are neutral-aged. French Oak grows slower and has tighter grains, so it imparts flavors slower than American Oak. Neutral oak, like a tea bag, has been used a few times and is weaker in imparting flavors. Then in bottle aging, there are differences. The Old World wines have harsher tannins lending ageability and structure to wines. Flavors are also developing here too. The fresh blackberry melds into compote and dried blackberry flavors. Earthiness, damp leaves, mushroom, and leather flavors become more noticeable. 

What of New World and terroir? In most regions there are political lines that distinguish in and out of appellations more than terroir. Think Napa, California. The whole political county is one appellation. It is then divided down into sub-regions like St. Helena, Oakville, and Yountville, which are all locations. Are the soil composition, climate, day/nighttime temperatures distinguishably different? Rutherford AVA might be a candle here with its unique Volcanic ash-red clay mix. The other example to pull out here is Zuccardi Winery, down in Mendoza, Argentina. Where they have a team of researchers who dig holes all over the vineyards and scientifically analyze soil samples and how grapes are to grow. True that Mendoza is a political lined region, but what they are doing is to make a case to move toward the terroir definition.

Is New World wine better than Old World wines?  This is a very personal question. The quality, taste, and characteristics of wines are subjective and can vary greatly based on personal preference. Therefore, it is not accurate to categorically state that Old World wines are universally better, worse, or different than New World wines.

It's important to note that both Old World and New World wines can be of exceptional quality and offer a wide range of flavors and styles. The choice between them often comes down to personal preference and the specific characteristics one enjoys in a wine. It's always recommended to explore and taste wines from both categories to discover your own preferences.

Is there a name for the Not New World and Not Old World wine regions called? And where are they?

In some texts these regions that produced wine longer ago than the Old World but may not have had a continuous viticulture activity through these years are called the Ancient World. Reasons stem from politics, culture, or religious leaders of the time that have required vines pulled and a great reduction/halting of wines being produced. These countries have antique varietals that are produced nowhere else and are known almost exclusively in the local regions, and are being threatened with extinction. These are regions of the world where Amber wines were first produced. (White wines vinified like red wine.) Georgia claims the start of viticulture. But so does Turkey. Other antient countries include Bosnia, Hungary, Lebanon, Israel, and Bulgaria.  

How do these countries compete for buyers, given little knowledge of these ancient varietals? A couple tactics have been deployed. Perhaps a first way is to get the regions accepted as a wine growing region with already familiar varietals. We Americans can be intrigued to buy a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon (because we can say it and know about what it should taste like) even from a foreign place. Krum, from Bulgaria produces a Cab Sauv and Merlot that is at City Vino. The second has to do with general acceptance of the younger wine drinkers, in the early 1990s, who are more willing to explore varietals and terroirs without judgment. Any and all grapes are foreign and new to them. Meaning a California Cabernet Sauvignon would be approached and understood with the same newness as approaching a Bosnian, Vrnarc. Exposure creates demand which enables inroads for distribution creating a market for these wines, elevating the Ancient World as valued, wonderful wines.


Be the first to comment...

Leave a comment
* Your email address will not be published