Before answering this question, I thought I would summarize 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. 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. Another aspect of Old World wine, is tradition. 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. But on the other hand, tradition can be very prescriptive. Telling you that you can only grow Syrah in the Rhone Valley for example. 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 typically restrained.
With that summary, what defines New World Wine? New World Wines can be defined by regions in the world, style of wine, and freedom from tradition. What about terroir? In my opinion, every area in the world that is growing grapes, and producing wine, has it’s own terroir. The soil is different, the climate, the shape of the land, the amount of sunlight and rain. Some view terroir as only being the soil, and indicate that certain types of soil are superior, or have a better terroir, than other soils. It is true that some soils are better than others for certain types of grapes. Wineries around the world I think do consider this when they plant their different varieties of grapes. Merlot for example likes soils with clay, so better to plant it in that type of soil than a sandy soil. The newer world wineries are maybe still learning which grapes grow best on their soil and show off the varietal character; while the Old World wineries have already built up this knowledge.
So what regions define New World Wines? The prime regions in my opinion are: North America, South America, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. These areas have been growing vitis vinifera typically for less than 100 years, like in the Okanagan, but other countries do have a few hundred years experience, and are still viewed as New World. Chile for example has been producing wine since 1555, and South Africa since 1685.
What about the style of wines from the New World wineries? Generally you can say that New World wines have more fruitiness to them than Old World wines. This in part can be due to the fact that many of the New World wine regions are in warmer climates than the Old World wineries, so the grapes can reach full maturity and phenolic ripeness. The New World style can also be seen as more approachable and easier drinking from a young age. You do not need in most cases to buy a bottle of wine from Australia, or the Okanagan, and wait 10 years before you open the bottle. Many are approachable when you purchase them in your wine shop. Sometimes New World wines have been criticized for having too much fruit, and not enough tannic structure, making the wine “unbalanced”. Typically one would rate a wine as great when fruit, sugar, acidity, and tannins are balanced so that one component does not overpower the other component. But for the majority of people who purchase wine to enjoy that day or shortly thereafter, worrying about these technical details is not so important. There is nothing wrong with enjoying wine with food and friends.
Finally, what about tradition? As I mentioned earlier, Old World wineries are steeped in tradition, which has good and bad aspects. One of the bad aspects is to control what varieties of grapes are grown in a region. In the New World regions, wineries are left to grow whatever red and white varieties they think work best in their vineyards. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out which are the best grape varieties, but at least the wineries get the chance to experiment. This may even help to find out the microclimates within an area. For example, the Naramata Bench may grow certain grape varieties better than the Golden Mile, and they are still within the Okanagan Valley not too far from each other.
With all this being said, maybe you would like to try tasting a New World and an Old World wine with the same grape varietal and take note of the differences? How about trying a Syrah from the Rhone Valley and a Syrah/Shiraz from the Apalta Region in Chile? Or a Sauvignon Blanc from the Sancerre region France and a Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region in New Zealand? There are many more comparisons you can try. Enjoy!