What is Old World Wine?

Old World wine, strictly defined, are wines produced by historically the wine producing regions of Europe. France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain would be the top producers of Old World wine. These countries have been responsible for many innovations in wine making, such as selecting vitis vinifera as producing the most enjoyable wines (e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Riesling).The Old World region invented the glass bottle for wine, and sparkling wine, among other accomplishments.

Old World wine is also about a style and a mentality about the land. In the Old World, you hear about “terroir“, and how terroir drives which grapes are grown in a region. For example, in the Rhone Valley, Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne, and Rousanne are grown. You would not traditionally find these grapes grown in Bordeaux or the Loire Valley.

What is terroir? Terroir is often used to describe the aspects of a wine region such as soil, climate and topography that are often out of the winemaker’s control. These unique features affect the ripening of the grapes, the nutrients that are absorbed from the soil, and more, which combined make the wine from the syrah grape in the Rhone Valley to taste different from syrah made elsewhere in the world. With the thousands of years that wine makers in the Old World have had with experimenting with different grape varieties on different soils, with different slopes and drainage, and climate, they have found the varieties that produce the best wine in each region.

Another aspect of Old World wine, is tradition. Tradition can be good or bad. Traditions help us learn from the past so that we do not have to go through the learning process that our ancestors have gone through. Such as determining that Syrah grows very well in the Rhone Valley. But on the other hand, tradition can be very prescriptive. Telling you that you can only grow Syrah in the Rhone Valley. Some wine makers, may for example want to grow Cabernet Sauvignon. They can, but the wine would not be accredited as AOC in France by the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine. This has happened in Italy, where some wine makers in the Tuscany region wanted to grow and produce wine with red grapes other than sangiovese. These wines could not be certified as DOCG of Italy at that time. The wine makers were producing excellent wines, and eventually the Italian wine certification body in Italy relented and made a new category for these Super Tuscan wines, called IGT. So change is possible in the Old World, but it can be a long process.

Old World Wines can also be thought of according to style. If you are thinking of a wine from Bordeaux, you are thinking of a wine, with some fruit, a solid backbone from tannins in the grape and from the oak aging. The wines are restrained. Not super extracted fruit driven wines, with lots of vanilla flavour. In time these Old World style Bordeaux reds evolve in the bottle, with the tannins softening, providing support to the fruit, and the flavours and aromas becoming more complex. Some Old World style wines are produced by the wine maker to reach their peak 5 – 10 or more years after the wines are bottled.

That’s a brief overview of what is Old World wine. Much more can be said about Old World wines, and maybe I will discuss more in future blogs. Enjoy.

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