A great debate raging in the wine world today is over the differences between wine coming from the New World versus the Old World. Much of this arguing quickly becomes obscured by emotions. Wine has the ability to create great passions. This in some way is proof of its greatness and importance to humankind. However, beyond the prejudices and rancor this discussion has some valid points of contention.
Old world wines come from the “classic wine making regions” in Europe. New world wines come from everywhere else. The Old World can generally date their origins of wine production back to the Roman Empire and beyond. Spans of time like this simply cannot be replicated by any other means. Throughout this 2000+ year period growers were able to figure out which grapes grew best and which areas of land consistently produced the finest quality. When the Roman Empire collapsed many of the vineyards were abandoned and so by natural selection the grapes which managed to survive became the grapes that are still grown today.
Naturally the growers from these regions-France, Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain have some pride in this history. Many growers are descended from families that have been tilling the soil for generations. This type of history has it’s dangers in that it creates a kind of complacency-if it’s not broke than why fix it kind of thinking. In this regard the advent of New World wines has been a positive influence on the established order as they are compelled to compete with a broader market.
New World wines come from Latin America, Australia, America, South Africa and New Zealand. Faced with an unbridgeable time gap these growers have had to develop new technologies to insure the quality of what they grow. As they lack the knowledge of what grapes will perform best in a given piece of ground they must employ methods to make sure the grapes will perform satisfactorily. These techniques include advanced irrigation systems, heavy reliance on oak aging and adding various natural compounds to the wine. This chemistry is often a closely guarded secret and it would be foolish to attempt to explain it as the growers and makers are not giving away secrets any time soon.
Whatever the methods used many New World have managed to come up with a lot of good wine. In the case of Latin America and Australia and South Africa this wine is often a very good value. The Southern Hemisphere growers are helped by a climate that changes little so there are fewer vintage variations. However, many wine drinkers are of the opinion that this homogeneity has come at the cost of less interesting wine. Much of the wine from these regions does not bear a recognizable thumbprint of the soil from which it sprung. A good deal of the pleasure of wine drinking is developing the ability to recognize and grow fond of a certain region. By removing this element of the earth much of the interest in wine is reduced.
While generally deploring much of the wine of the New World, the Old World is being forced to take notice. Australian wine has displaced French wine as the top import to the British Isles. Many traditional makers are employing some new techniques to insure a better, more marketable product. This is generally not a bad thing as France for instance has always produced lakes of cheap swill. Lacking competition many growers and producers were content to maintain the status quo.
As long as the Old World does not lose its intrinsic personality and deep relationship with the soil these trends can only benefit the consumer. Diversity is never a bad thing. Many consumers simply want a cheap, reliable wine to eat dinner with and these days they have a whole world to choose from.