It can be daunting for a wine novice to walk into a wine shop and pull an unfamiliar bottle from the shelf, confident in the fact that they know exactly how that wine will taste. We’ve all been there. I’m a sucker for packaging, and have purchased more bottles simply for looks than I’d like to admit. In fact, I still do it. I bought this pretty little thing the other day because, well, how could I resist?
Vouvray Sec “La Dilettante”, Pierre Breton 2009.
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But I knew that this wine was made from the Chenin Blanc grape, so it would most likely have notes of honey and stone fruit. And I knew that it was made in the Loire Valley of France, and as such it would have palpable minerality and fresh, vibrant acidity. I knew it would be a stellar match for my roast chicken with root vegetables (which it absolutely was).
I know these things because I’ve spent my adult life studying wine. But you certainly don’t need to do that. You just need to know the old world/new world trick. Old world regions are those that have been making wine forever like Germany, Italy, and France. New world regions (America, Chile, Australia, etc.) are those that are new to the game.
Speaking very generally, new world regions have warmer climates, at least in the areas where vines are planted. Grapes are just like any other fruit; think of a peach or a tomato at this time of year – hard as a rock, full of acidity, with very little sugar. The warmer it gets, the riper the fruit gets. As fruit ripens, its acidity levels decrease while its sugar levels increases. So grapes from warmer climates get riper, resulting in wines that are much more concentrated and fruit-forward. The process of fermentation converts all that sugar into alcohol, so warm climate wines will usually feel heavier and more full-bodied on the palate. And because sugar develops at the expense of acidity, new world wines are often less tart than their old world relatives.
Grapes grown in cooler, old world climates don’t reach such high levels of ripeness, so wines made from them are likely to be lighter, with present acidity. Old world regions also tend to emphasize earthiness and minerality, which is simply easier to taste without all that ripe fruit in the way.
So, generally speaking, old world wines will be earthier and more tart, while New World wines will be richer and more fruit-forward, even if they’re made from the exact same grapes. Want to test this out at home? Pick up a bottle of Pinot Noir from Oregon and one from Burgundy. Or try a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc alongside a Sancerre. The wines are made from the same grapes, but the differences are remarkable, and truly drive home the difference between warm and cool climate winegrowing regions. Figure out which style tickles your fancy and you’re one step closer to buying wine with ease.