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

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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

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