Wine people talk incessantly about the style of wine. Some wines are big, others elegant; some are cellar worthy, while others are said to be consumer-friendly and ready-to-drink. Then there are those pesky tasting descriptors used by retailers, writers and producers, namely the “Old World” and the “New World”, but what do they really mean?
Often the distinction is one of mentality and/or attitude, yet from a practical or tasting point of view the translation can be more structural. If it’s a bit too simplistic to say, New World wines are richer, riper and normally more alcoholic on the palate, it is no less true — and equally simplistic — to claim that Old World/European wines tend to be leaner in structure, bear more acid, have firmer tannins and, in most cases, are often crafted to accompany food.
As any seasoned taster will tell you, a little of both is true. And in the world of modern wine, the lines are as fuzzy as ever.
This autumn you may want to explore the “New World versus Old World” conundrum in the comfort of your home as it pertains to key grape varieties grown in France, which is the heart of “the Old World versus the rest of the globe.”
It is not really a tasting challenge but rather a discovery of what each style has to offer. All you require now is a bit of curiosity, an open mind, and perhaps the notion that what’s old is new again. So let’s get started…
Sauvignon Blanc tasted outside of France is often described as being Sancerre or Pouilly Fume-like. The problem is many consumers are unaware that the fresh, mineral, crisp flavours of Sancerre, Pouilly Fume and Touraine are linked to sauvignon blanc because French appellation law emphasizes the place name and not grape variety. In the New World, the best examples mimic the Loire-style offering smoky, mineral, pear and green apple flavours, leaner structure and higher acidity from places like Casablanca, Leyda and Limari in Chile, Marlborough in New Zealand and the Constantia/Coastal Region of South Africa.
Food brings the New and Old World examples closer together. Clams, green lip mussels, goat’s cheese, pasta and chicken salads rule the New World, while chèvre, any fish in sorrel sauce, onion tarts and mussels would be the French equivalent.
My Old World pick is the impressive Pascal Jolivet 2005 Sancerre ($37) from the Loire Valley with its leesy, gooseberry, mineral flavours and super crisp finish. Contrast that with Vina Litoral Ventolera ($20) from Leyda, Chile with its nettle, bell pepper, pepper, gooseberry and grapefruit rind, butter and honey tones.