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Dear Dr. Vinny,
When you describe a wine as “old school,” what flavor characteristics are you describing?
—Anthony R., Quebec
The term “old school” refers to anything traditional or old-fashioned. When applied to wine, I think it typically refers to winemaking decisions more than to flavors, though it could also refer to a style. This could be either a compliment or an insult, depending on who is using the term and why.
What is modern and what is “old school”? Depends on the person and what they’re referencing. For some, the most traditional wine was made before the modern era, and with minimal or no chemical intervention either in growing the grapes or in making the wine. As you might imagine, there are a lot of different viewpoints here—for some, even using an oak barrel might seem like too much intervention, even though barrels have been pretty ubiquitous in winemaking for a while now. For others, barrels might be fine, but they would stay away from alternatives like oak chips.
Other people might use “old school” in contrast to a “modern” style of wine. Modern wines are typically considered softer and riper than their traditional counterparts. “Old school” wine styles would probably be less ripe and extracted, with lower alcohol, than similar wines made in a more modern style.
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