Old World vs New World? Time to move on…
The big problem with the wine world…or at least one of the problems…is vocabulary. There’s so much jargon used in the wine industry that most common mortals get lost. Let’s forget the adjectives used to describe wine taste, the aroma and flavor profile, and let’s get on to another hot topic: New World vs Old World.
I show a lot of clients around the vineyards of Burgundy and many are from the Southern Hemisphere: Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and California. Having spent some time with these clients, whether professionals or just curious wine drinkers, one thing is certain, they are very proud of the wine produced in their country…and rightly so. That’s why they can often take offense to being considered as a “New World” wine country.
“We’ve been making high quality wine for many years and there’s nothing new about our wines!”
This is very true. With wine consumption continuing to increase around the world and many new countries starting to make wine, Australia and the USA, to use two examples, can no longer be considered as “new” to the market. Indeed these countries are considered as being some of the most innovative in the world and many aspiring wine makers from the “old continent” head to these countries for inspiration.
We say “old world” as wine was first made back in Europe some 5000 years, with Georgia and the Caucasus being named as the birthplace of modern-day wine. But, to me, it’s not about age or traditions, it’s more about grape varietals and that famous word that is so difficult, if not impossible to translate around the world, called Terroir.
So what does Terroir mean? Well, common definitions tend to highlight the “natural” factors surrounding the vine, such as soil make up and climatic conditions. In some regions this hasn’t as much effect as the vineyard tends to surround the estate which produces a reliable and high quality wine, with a similar flavor profile from one year to the next. In other regions, Terroir has much more significance. In Burgundy, for instance, the small sized estates will not necessarily have their vineyard around the estate but more often spread out around the village and beyond. The owners will possess a certain surface area (number of rows of vines) in certain vineyards. From one vineyard to the next, thanks to the unique geological formation, the soil make up and the climatic conditions could change just enough to give the grapes a slightly different taste.
This has lead to Burgundian wine makers talking about the “expression of the terroir” to describe the style of the wine, thus pointing out the subtle differences not only between each of the 44 wine villages in Burgundy but also the difference between the vineyard plots themselves! This is due to a unique geological formation involving several tectonic plates with 6 different types of limestone, a layer of marl stone and clay making up the rock bed and top soil.
In Burgundy, for example, you don’t ask for a Pinot noir but for a Gevrey Chambertin, a Pommard or a Nuits St George. And likewise, you don’t ask for a Chardonnay either, instead you ask for a Meursault, a Puligny Montrachet, a Chablis or a Pouilly Fuissé. That’s because Pinot noir is 95% of the red wine and Chardonnay 85% of the whites!
The same problem arises when you talk about modern wine styles as compared to traditional. But what is that supposed to mean? In the Southern Hemisphere they use modern techniques whereas in Europe it’s all traditional? Does that mean that in France for example, we still crush grapes with our feet and ferment in wooden vats? Seriously?
It’s time to move on and consider wine for what it really is: a grape varietal that grows in a specific terroir and which is then transformed by the wine maker.
So when talking about wines from Australia, Chile, California, New Zealand or Argentina, we should apply this rule. The same grape varietals that we use in Europe are used in these countries, but it is their “terroir” along with the wine makers skills that make their style of wine…it shouldn’t be about old and new. Take a look at the case of Malbec originally from the south-east of France showing arguably the best expression of its terroir…in Argentina! It’s time to respect wine countries around the world…and move on.