Old World Wines

Old World Wines from Classe Wines

When speaking of Old World wines, one is actually talking about wines that originate in Europe and non-European Mediterranean nations such as those of North Africa and the Near East. Old World wines are different from New World wine which comes from New Zealand, the Americas, Australia, and South Africa.

The term, Old World wines, has more to do with styles of grape cultivation and wine preparation, or viniculture and winemaking, than it does with geography. Traditions of grape cultivation and wine preparation have more to do with a concept called terroir, loosely translated as the land's influence, than with the role of the winemaker or of science. These latter two factors are credited with being the most important influences in New World wines.

In modern times, we have seen the advent of flying winemakers who advise on the growing of grapes and the preparation of wine to hundreds of vineyards by travelling the globe. This effect has somewhat blurred the distinctions between Old World wines and New World wines. Today, it is possible to find either style anywhere that wines are made.

Influences on Old World wines

The strongest influences on Old World wines by far are those known as the tradition and terroir factors. The first term is about the historical influences on a wine making region, which have tended to shape a culture. The second term is about geographical influences. Together, they speak of an old, patient approach to making wine. Lessons learned generations ago guide activities today, and a project may take decades to reach fruition. They also imply a deep knowledge of the particular conditions that prevail in a place. Therefore, the cultivation of grapes and preparation of Old World wines are idealized for the possibilities in that location. The choices are many, including varieties of grapes, maximum achievable yields, specific techniques for making wines, and methods of using trellises to guide and control growing grape vines.

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Such information becomes local lore and is quite important in the making of Old World wines. In France, they have the rulebook known as Appellation d'origine contrôlee or AOC; while the Spanish developed over the centuries the Denominación de Origen or DO; on the other hand, the Italians have their codes called the Denominazione di origine controllata or DOC; and, last of all, the Portuguese recorded an epistle known as the Denominação de Origem Controlada or DOC.

The distinctive term known as terroir has been often used to explain those facets of a wine region that the winemaker cannot influence. These include: soil, topographical considerations, and of course climate. These factors will make a Reisling from a particular region of Germany taste and smell different than a Reisling made elsewhere. This is true not just for some locations but almost everywhere that identical techniques are used to make Old World wines.

Another difference between New World wines and Old World wines is that the former are usually labeled according to the varietal grape used in the wine's preparation, while the Old World wines tend to be labeled based on the terroir of their region where they were produced. Producers of Old World wines are convinced that it is the terroir-driven qualities associated with the origins of a wine that matter far more than a simple choice of grape variety.

Vine Cultivation for Old World wines

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The science of winemaking is known as viticulture. The history of this science is thousands of years old, with prominent discoveries of successful practices in the Old World wines regions of the Greeks, the Romans, and others having made notable contributions. Also contributing were other cultures such as the Phoenicians.

All of these Old World wines localities, through techniques of trial and error, discovered viticulture techniques that are suited to their special climates and geographies. They were considered so important over the centuries that they have been codified into local winemaking regulations. In many places, you can only make a wine according to specific practices.

If there were a single thing that clearly differentiates the making of Old World wines from New World wine-making, it would be the spacing of the vines. Most producing vineyards in the countries that make Old World wines date back centuries, to eras long before mechanization of grape harvests. On the other hand, New World Wines tend to have been cultivated in the industrial era. This has made all of the difference.

Vineyards for making Old World wines have the vines closely spaced, because this made easier harvesting for humans. On the other hand, the advent of mechanical agriculture tools and systems coupled with the vast tracts of land available for cultivation in the New World, have combined to assure that New World wines are made with vines spaced far enough apart to accommodate the necessary machinery. This has, of course, also driven down the prices of New World wines and caused considerable fluctuations in the world wine market's prices.

Vines in locales for Old World wines tend to be planted one meter apart, with rows separated by the same distance. On the other hand, in the New World, plantings tend to be 12 feet apart with 8 feet separating the rows of vines.

The Importance of Vintners to Old World Wines

While it will surprise many to learn this fact, in the process of making Old World wines, the human factor - that of the winemaker - is far less important than in the New World process for making wines.

The almost mystical concept of terroir focused the attention of wine aficionados on the question of whether the particular wine successfully expresses its own location of origin. Consider if you will a Riesling wine that comes from the Mosel area. Vintners creating Old World wines from Mosel generally consider it their duty to articulate the special traits of Mosel wine country. Given the land's distinctive high-slate soil composition, the Old World wines created will brag about their high mineral levels in the particular ratio that's appropriate for Mosel vintages.

On the other hand, wine makers in the New World get a lot of credit for their distinctive styles and approaches. Further, there is a lot of emphasis on techniques to draw out fruity flavors in a particular wine, also known as "fruit driven" vintnering. Because of this emphasis on the winemaker, those in the New World are often more experimental in their approaches than vintners who are creating Old World wines. For example, a recent New World wine innovation was the addition of enzymes to break down compounds in the wine to create unique new flavors. Old World wines want to most perfectly capture the traditional flavors for their varietals and regions, not create new flavors.

The Making of Old World Wines

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The vintners who make Old World wines focus more often on the use of special, proprietary yeasts for the fermentation process. This is closer in some ways to the making of beer than the to the New World approaches to wine-making where yeast is not generally so carefully considered. Yeast strains are both bred and continuously harvested from discovery in the wild.

Making Old World wines has taken the art of using special proprietary fermentation techniques to considerable lengths. Vintners have discovered how to ferment at high temperatures, and also how to stretch out the post-fermentation process of maceration, which brings higher amounts of phenolics into the wine from the grape skins or must. This, in turn, tends to lead Old World wines that are more sophisticated and complex than many of their New World competitors, but also require additional years to age into bloom.

In the New World, most producers use a combination of oak barrel storage and lactic fermentation processes that accelerate maturation of product, but often at the cost of sophistication. To sum this up, New World wine-makers are poised to win the battle of volume production and have achieved increasing levels of quality. However, producers of Old World wines have a well-established advantage with the more rarified higher-quality wine offerings, the ones that command astronomical prices as they age well.

Buying Old World wines

You can buy a good bottle of wine, whether Old World wines or New, in most places in the world for $10 or even less. For this we can thank the innovations of the New World winemakers. But, for true excellence to satisfy the connoisseur's palate one will have to wait for well-aged wines that usually come from Europe and will cost upwards of $100 per bottle. Whether you can afford such a wine or not, you can certainly have a great time either in the New World wine-tasting countries or tasting Old World wines by taking a leisurely drive through the countryside where they are grown, stopping and sampling the local wines, and getting interesting information from the proprietors. You'll probably find a few unique and delightful bottles to take home with you as well.

The future of winemaking is clearly in the direction of more automation, as well as toward ever more small, unique, specialty wine growers. Europeans will continue to emphasize their mastery of fermentation processes and ability to develop extraordinary wines that age well and cost a small fortune. The makers of Old World wines will thereby continue to prosper, though there may well be fewer of them as increasing numbers of people seek pastoral lifestyles and bid up the prices of good wine-growing real estate for conversion to homes.