The Old and the New World of Wine: An Introduction for Wine Drinkers in India

The first dilemma faced by wine drinkers in India (as elsewhere) is which wine to choose. As a wine drinker, you’ll often hear the term ‘style’ in reference to wine. What does this term indicate? Basically ‘style’ is an inclusive term that captures the way the wine was produced: from the way the grapes were grown to the vinification process itself. Style is not the same thing as ‘type’. The same type of grape variety (e.g. Chardonnay) can be made into very different styles of wine – from the minerally austere Chablis to the opulent, buttery and round California style. Like with any other matter related to style, the philosophy of the decision maker is key. Your sense of style in clothing is determined by how you think: are you traditionalist, a free-wheeler, flashy or a rebel. Similarly the ‘style’ of wine in the end is influenced by the vine grower, the winemaker and prevailing traditions in their country or region.

The most commonly referred to styles that you’ll hear about are the ‘Old World’ and the ‘New World’ styles. Let’s take a look at both styles.

Old World New World Style Implication
Countries & History The classical wine producing countries of Europe, the most important of which are: France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Austria and Hungary. Long wine producing history going back thousands of years. In Italy, France and Greece wine has been produced continuously since at least the Roman times. Relative newcomers to the wine world with their winemaking histories going back only a few hundred years at most. The most important New World countries are: USA, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa. In the Old World, the grape to land pairings are often hundreds of years old (e.g. Pinot Noir in Burgundy) and are enshrined in the law. In the New World, there is little (if any) legislation about what grapes can be grown where and the grape to land pairings are still being explored!
Old World New World Style Implication
Legislation With a long history comes ample legislation. In the Old World, almost every aspect of winemaking is heavily legislated and the list of what winemakers cannot do is much longer than what they can! Legislation plays a smaller part in vine growing and wine making decisions in the New World. There is a lot more experimentation with grape growing and wine making techniques in the New World than there is in the Old world. New world winemakers frequent experiment with using different grape varieties and blends and are more easily able to respond to the prevalent fashions.
Old World New World Style Implication
Wine Bottle Labels This is a generalization, but an important one. Bottle labels in the Old World often do not carry the names of the grape varieties (frequently listing the grape variety on the front label is not permitted for classified wines). Therefore, it is up to the wine drinkers to know what kind of grapes go into wines from Bordeaux or Burgundy for example. New World wines are almost always varietally labeled: i.e. they carry the name of the grape variety or blend on the front label. If it’s a Merlot, the wine label will say it! This makes a big difference to marketing. A ‘Merlot’ is a lot easier for a new wine drinker to grab than a ‘Saint-Emilion’ (even though the latter produces some of the best Merlot based wines in the world!
Old World New World Style Implication
Taste & flavours Due to the traditional wine making methods, long histories and legislation, Old World style wines tend to stress ‘Terroir’. Terroir can be loosely translated as a ‘sense of place’ – bestowing on wine a sense of the place it comes from. These wines tend to have more mineral tones (chalk, stone, dust, earth, soil) and more subtle fruitiness and more overall complexity. As a result, some quality Old World wines are not easily appreciated by beginning wine drinkers who are looking for ‘big’ and obvious fruit flavours. Like an obviously pretty girl, New World wines have easy appeal and are easier to understand. These tend to be a lot more obviously fruity (often referred to as fruit-forward wines), with aggressive use of toasty oak (even oak chips or substitutes) providing sweet spice flavours. Complexity though is not the exclusive preserve of Old World wines – it is found in plenty of quality New World wines as well. Which style one likes is a matter of personal taste. Great wine is made in both styles. Even the styles cross borders and the lines are increasingly blurring – there are Old World producers who are adopting a New World style of wine making and vice versa! The winners are the consumers who have more choice than ever!

Some concluding words of advice for my fellow wine drinkers in India:

  • Try to avoid taking very strong positions in selecting wine. Specifically be vary of taking a position like: “I only like full-bodied New World wine”. Part of the beauty of the world of wine is its diversity: why voluntarily give up the wonderful world of choice! In your personal wine drinking journey, experimentation and an open mind are your best friends.
  • Remember that drinking the same style always is boring.
  • Find it all intimidating, break it up. Pick up a grape variety (like Chardonnay, or Cabernet Sauvignon) and over a period of several weeks or months, explore all the different styles of wine made using that grape variety (Old World/New World, Oaked/Unoaked, Young/Mature). Very soon you’ll be an expert!
  • Finally, remember that wine is a partner to food. Your best experiences with wine will likely come with pairing it with good food. So vary your wine selection along with the menu du jour!

A typical New World wine bottle label has the grape variety mentioned, in this case a Merlot-Cabernet blend.

The ‘Wine Country Websites’ section of this website has several useful links for exploring the wines of New and Old World countries.

A wine bottle label from Saint-Emilion in Bordeaux. The grape variety is not mentioned on the label.

About Gaurav Anand

Certified Sommelier Gaurav Anand is an India based wine writer, consultant, educator and founder of Wine Forays. He earned his Sommelier certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers and holds the WSET Advanced certification in Wines & Spirits. Above all, he is a wine lover on a full-time mission to taste and discover the best wines in the world.
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