Words by Laura Botten
Photography by M. Schleif Photography

We don’t judge our friends based on birthplace, but where our grapes are nurtured does matter. Recently, we gathered a group at an event we regularly host called Brix & Banter. Our goal was to showcase the differences between Old World and New World wines and why these differences manifest themselves in the glass.

Defining our Wine
Simply put, Old World wines hail from eastern and central Europe, the birthplace of the “modern” wine industry. Vitis vinifera vines and grape varieties that produce the wines that we, as consumers know and love, are believed to have made their first appearance in the Caucasus Mountains in western Asia thousands of years ago, spreading from there into eastern Europe and the Middle East.

New World wines are the result of European colonization of the Americas, Oceania and South Africa over the centuries as vine cuttings made the voyage with emigrants destined for new beginnings. Over the years, these vines flourished in their new homes, living up to, and at times eclipsing, their old world counterparts.

The terms “Old World” and “New World” have moved beyond simply defining a wine by its geography and are now used to reference style and typicity. Since “style” is an extension of geography, politics, regulations, tradition and history, the two uses have an undeniable connection. If all of this seems like an overwhelming pop quiz, just hang in there. We promise it’s worth the read and far more fun than the classroom.

The table below outlines some of the differences between the two. Please keep in mind that these are generalizations, and as with all things wine, there will certainly be exceptions. However, the tasting component criteria outlined, are what a professional taster evaluates during the deductive tasting method to help determine a wine’s origin.

Side by Side Comparisons

At our spring Brix & Banter tasting, we decided to put the OW versus NW to the test, tasting similar wines side by side. It was an interesting exercise; the wines presented beautifully and were direct reflections of the style and typicity outlined above. To be certain we were comparing “apples to apples”, the price points and blends, where applicable, were similar.

Pairing #1: 

Chateau Val Beylie “Demoiselle” Bordeaux Blanc, France:
The Chateau Beylie, a traditional Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon Blanc (80%) and Semillon (20%) from a tiny vineyard (only 500 cases produced) was tasting exceptional. With intense fruit character and greater weight from extended maceration with the skins, this is a unique Bordeaux Blanc. It is redolent with white flower, gingerbread, herbs & honey notes. Unoaked & fresh, with moderate acidity (mediated by the Semillon), this is a crowd pleaser with layers of complexity.

Cade Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, California:
Napa Valley is a warmer climate than Bordeaux, so the expectation is riper fruit character – pushing to more tropical fruit versus citrus fruit – which this wine delivered. This wine saw a modicum of oak influence, which included a tiny bit of Acacia wood that the winemaker feels brings a bit of an “almond” or nutty quality to the wine. A bit richer on the palate, more tropical fruit, less acidity, and a bit higher alcohol than its French counterpart, this is a personal favorite for “New World” Sauvignon Blanc.

*Both wines lack the very herbaceous and green notes associated with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Pairing #2: 

Macon-Lugny Les Charmes Chardonnay, Burgundy, France (100% Chardonnay):
Our new favorite Chardonnay, especially for summer drinking, meant it had to be shared!  This is a 100% Estate Chardonnay from the “Les Charmes” vineyard in Lugny, a village of the Maconnais. It sees no oak influence and is intended to be all about the fruit and unique terroir of the region – chalky, limestone soils – that many feel evoke minerality in a wine. It is luxurious on the palate, with ripe fruit, floral notes and a balancing acidity.

Napa Cellars Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California (100% Chardonnay):
This wine again showcased more intense fruit character and weight on the palate than its cooler climate counterpart. Baked apple, ripe pear, caramel and toasted pastry with buttery, creamy overtones and vanilla and spice from oak aging, leaves this wine begging for a nice lobster tail, creamy seafood pasta, chicken piccata or buttered popcorn!

*Both of these wines see 100% Malolactic Fermentation and Sur Lie Aging, with only the Napa Cellars meeting oak, and are great Chards to evaluate side by side!

Pairing #3: 

Jean-Claude Boisset Les Ursuline Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Burgundy, France (100% Pinot Noir):
With fruit coming from the Cotes-de-Nuits, the spiritual home of Pinot Noir, this quintessential Burgundy over-delivers at a reasonable price. Red fruit character – think cranberry, strawberry, ripe red cherry – along with subtle spice notes and a lovely “earthy” component, come together to reveal a refined, finessed and elegant drinking wine. Grab this for simply prepared salmon, duck or a mushroom-heavy dish. The higher acid, lower alcohol and more refined fruit character would also complement a cheese plate or creamy pasta.

Napa Cellars Pinot Noir, Napa Valley, California (100 % Pinot Noir):
In keeping with the previous wines, the warmer Napa Valley climate produces riper fruit, with black cherry, earth, cola, spice notes and caramel; showcasing a more brooding, “masculine” expression of Pinot Noir. This wine sees more oak influence than the Bourgogne, which bodes well considering its bigger constitution. If you lean towards a more structured and “robust” Pinot Noir, this should find a home in your wine rack.

*These two Pinot Noirs deftly showcase the range of Pinot Noir.

Pairing #4:

Clos d’ L’Oratoire des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France:
Consistently rated 90+ points, this is a hidden gem that allows you to drink Chateauneuf-du-Pape without breaking the bank. Drinking beautifully, it was the crowd favorite. Frank & spicy, with licorice, black pepper and surprising, subtle florals evolve into more traditional notes of strawberry, cherry and fresh blackcurrant with subtle menthol. This is a blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah & 5% each Cinsaut & Mourvedre. Chateauneuf-du-Pape allows 13 (or 18, depending on how they are counted) grape varieties, but Grenache must hold the majority of the blend.

Abstract Red Blend by Orin Swift, California:
Abstract is a blend of Grenache (70-80%, varies by vintage), Syrah (2nd by volume) and Petite Sirah by iconic winemaker, Dave Phinney. Big, with dark briar fruit, ripe black plums, mocha, coffee and caramel on the nose and palate, ample tannins and oak influence, this wine is quintessentially Orin Swift: high alcohol balanced by robust fruit. Much like the label, it is a well-appointed collage that is greater than the sum of its parts. Enjoy with a big, juicy steak or barbecued ribs.

And the Winner is…

After every pairing, we took a vote. And, much to our surprise, our group of (mostly)  American palates favored the Old World wines every round. Not by a landslide, but certainly a majority. The greater takeaway was that indeed, these wines presented in the manner outlined above; Old World contenders were more subtle and acidic, lower alcohol and more terroir-driven with earthy and mineral notes. The New World wines were more concentrated and robust, with lower acid, higher alcohol and significantly more intense fruit character.

About Brix & Banter

Brix & Banter is the collaboration of restaurateur Dan Hurder and Laura Botten; both wine enthusiasts whose goal is to make wine fun and approachable while educating, dispelling myths and opening new doors (or bottles) for the novice or experienced wine drinker. Tastings are the second Wednesday of every month and you can follow them here:


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