No doubt you’ve all heard about “old world” and “new world” wines. Regions in France, Germany or Spain, for example, would be considered part of the established old world and regions in, say, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and the US are the exciting new world. There are wine geeks aplenty with strong views about the two – we’d dare say the bias tends to be in favour of the old world; a bias which is more noticeable when you’re living outside a so-called new world nation.
Do we have a preference? Absolutely not. We feel the same thrill when we hear about an up-and-coming winemaker who’s innovating with completely new growing and winemaking techniques because she’s making wine in the tropical humidity of Bali, Indonesia as we do when we hear about a winery being in the same family for over 300 years, using traditional methods that have withstood the test of time in Rioja, Spain.
We love the vastness and feeling of oneness with nature (or at least, with vines) when driving through the Coonawarra plains of South Australia as much as strolling through Saint Emilion in Bordeaux being captivated by the picturesque stone cottages. We love the convenience and simplicity of a screw cap but also the light “puh” sound of wine being de-corked; the sometimes cheeky, risqué artistry of new wine labels and the tradition and history of old names; the shiny glass and steel extravagance of new wineries and the earthy, dusky familiarity of the old.
Are there differences? Of course. The old world is generally characterized by a focus on tradition and terroir or, put simply, the methods and customs of making the wine and the unique features of the specific place the grapes are grown. It’s harder to provide a one-line summation of the new world. Perhaps that’s the point. While the old world is generally Euro-centric, the new world is extremely varied both geographically, culturally and the varying degrees of emphasis placed on replicating old world traditions versus blazing their own trails.
Growing up in Australia we were generally exposed to new world wines – they were more accessible and frankly, it was easier! A bottle of Shiraz in Australia is clearly labeled ‘Shiraz’. Pick up a bottle of Bordeaux and we’d be racking our brains, and more recently google, to remind ourselves what varietals are in a Bordeaux (it depends, but generally Merlot topped up with Cabernet Franc and Cab Sauv.)
A recent evening inspired us to write about the two worlds. We unexpectedly found ourselves eating a delightful Italian meal in Macau accompanied with a Torbreck 2009 RunRig and a Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia 1998 Masseto, the former being one of Australia’s finest Syrahs (sorry, easier than figuring out the plural form for ‘Shiraz’) and the latter one of Italy’s, arguably the world’s, premier Merlots. Comparing the two would be like comparing apples to oranges (pardon the overused idiom) so that’s not the point of this story. What resonated is the tale the two wines told of their respective worlds.
Let’s start with the RunRig. The Australian arrived with a boldness that said “I’m going to have a party with your taste buds and I’m here to stay”. It was like being punched in the face in the most beautiful way possible. She was confident and demanded an immediate reaction to her intense, dark berries and later the lingering dark chocolate undercurrent.
By contrast the Masseto was a slow seduction. The Italian crept up on us, kissed both cheeks with his tannic balance and caused us to pause and reflect on the youthfulness he’s maintained in his maturity and the incredible freshness of the fruit that comes from the warm Tuscan sun.
This year we have been lucky enough to experience both old and new world wine regions and wines from Bali to Bordeaux, Barossa to Rioja. We look forward to bring you more detailed accounts of our travels and consumption in coming posts. In the meantime, we urge you to go to your local bottle-o, pick up a couple of bottles from the two worlds and sit back and reflect on the contrasts, the history, the journey.
Until next time…