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Two Women on Wine: A Tale of Two Wine Worlds -- Old and New

Know the differences to make better wine buying decisions

Posted: March 13, 2009 4:20 p.m.
Updated: March 13, 2009 1:20 p.m.
Growing up on the East Coast, we remember when the world of wine revolved largely around Europe, particularly France and Italy. These Old World wines, as they are known, produced most of the world's notable wines.

Although wine had been produced for centuries in the Americas - or the New World - the commercial wine industry in California hadn't exploded onto the scene yet.

Times have changed since we grew up and wine has now gone global. Today, the Old World of Europe and the New World of California are the most important wine-producing regions in the world.

The New World wines have expanded beyond California to include other parts of North America, South America, Australia, and South Africa.

When we're asked which type of wine is better - Old World or New World - our answer is almost always, "That depends."

Generally speaking, there are significant differences between wines produced in Europe and wines produced in California and other New World regions. Knowing the differences can help you make good decisions when it comes to choosing wines.

Here's what we share with folks who ask which wine they should buy: If you're looking for a wine that you can uncork and drink right away, then consider a New World wine.

New World wines are generally bolder, fruitier and big on flavor. Even without food, these wines can stand on their own. One reason is that grapes grown in hotter New World climates are harvested later than European grapes, so they tend to be riper. This intensifies the flavor and sugar content, which also means a higher alcohol content.

New World wines, like some California Zinfandels, sometimes referred to as "fruit bombs," or a zesty Australian Shiraz, can burst with intense fruity flavors and be enjoyed within a year or two of vintage. New World wines are best served with straightforward foods, such as grilled chicken or steak.

Old World wines, on the other hand, come from grapes that have been grown in colder climates. The grapes are harvested earlier and originate from a specific region, such as Bordeaux or Burgundy. Because of the terroir and winemaking style, their flavors are usually more subtle and reserved, and tend to improve with age.

As a rule of thumb, Old World wines are at their best when they are allowed to breathe and served with food. Pair a French red Bordeaux, for example, with a dish layered with flavors, like duck cassoulet or braised lamb shank. Believe us when we say that you will be in for a wonderful experience.

While the differences between New World versus Old World wines are numerous and distinct, it all boils down to style and terroir. Old World wines pride themselves on the grapes' soil location; New World wines offer lots of fruit flavors and softer tannins.

To say that an Old World wine is or isn't better than a New World wine is to miss the point. Deciding which wine is right for you is a matter of personal preference, style and purpose.

Our recommendation: Have fun exploring both worlds. Cheers!


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