What's the difference between Old World and New World wines?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is the difference between Old World and New World? And the difference between Neo-Europe and Europe?

—Justin, Canada

Dear Justin,

I’ve answered this question before, but it’s been a few years, so I thought it would be good to freshen up my take.

Geographically, “Old World” refers to Europe and “New World” refers to the rest of the world’s winegrowing regions. Today, though, I think these terms are more often used to refer to different styles of wine. Old World wines tend to be lighter-bodied, with more earthy, herbal, floral and minerally characteristics, while New World wines tend to be riper, more fruit-forward, concentrated and extracted, with higher alcohol. (If you can’t tell, these are huge generalizations.) Climates in many parts of the New World are warmer than climates in many parts of the Old World, and these terms are a way to distinguish the difference, since warmer weather typically means riper flavor and higher alcohol.

These terms also invoke the ideas of tradition vs. modernization. There are Old World wineries who are trying to make more fruit-forward wines, which I imagine is the “Neo-Europe” tag you’re asking about, though I hadn’t heard it before. There are also New World wineries that are making lower-alcohol styles, which one of my colleagues refers to as “neo-classical.”

Since I last wrote about these terms, the wine world has become even more diverse. I get how tempting it is to label wines into different categories to try to make sense of all the choices. But with new winemakers, new methods, emerging regions and changing climates, I feel that the wine world has become too nuanced to be broken down into these terms.

—Dr. Vinny

How to Taste Tasting Descriptors Winemaking Techniques Explained Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

What do people mean by traditional vs. modern wine styles?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains modern vs. traditional wine styles around the …

Jul 19, 2019

Which wines have the least sugar?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains that determining the amount of sugar in a wine …

Jul 17, 2019

What does “cloying” mean in reference to wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what happens when sweetness goes too far.

Jul 15, 2019

How should I decant a double-magnum of a 20-year-old wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers tips on decanting large-format wine bottles.

Jul 12, 2019

Are there different strategies to preserving leftover still vs. sparkling wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the science behind keeping still and sparkling …

Jul 10, 2019

What sound does a cork make?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny talks popping corks.

Jul 8, 2019




Restaurant Search

Restaurant Search