Let’s agree to discuss three types of viticulture and the wine styles they produced: Ancient World, Old World and New World. Ancient World will refer to wines grown and created from the Paleolithic Era through the life of Louis Pasteur (19th Century/ Industrial Revolution). Old World wines will refer to wines grown on the European Continent from Pasteur’s lifetime to the modern day, and New World Wines are wines grown in places where grapevines were brought to colonies by European settlers.
In the broadest sense we can characterize each this way:
- Ancient Wines: Rustic to the extreme. From Paleolithic wines that appeared ‘magically’ at the bottom of a well-used grape basin in a cave, to the B.C.E. ‘cult wines’ of the Greek Islands that fetched a team of oxen per jug, wine growing and production techniques took millennia to improve to the point where wine became a heavily traded ancient commodity. Ancient Wines were often thin, harsh and highly acidic due to growing conditions and poor trellising. They were very useful for drinking or mixing with water, as the alcohol served to kill bacteria.
- Old World Wines: The classic, food-friendly style inherent in the great wines of Europe that elevated wine from a simple fermented beverage to an integral part of the ritual of dining. I use Louis Pasteur and the Industrial Revolution as the distinction between Ancient and Old World for obvious reasons: Pasteur discovered the secrets of wine’s organic chemistry and Industry made it possible to produce the first metal trellising and high-tensile wire for grapevine vineyards. From jugs on a peasant’s table to the vaunted Grand Crus and First Growths of Burgundy or Bordeaux, winegrowing and winemaking became a celebrated (almost alchemical) craft. In today’s wine market, Old World refers to the traditional European style of decades and centuries past: wines focused more on classic balance and ‘place’ than the ripeness and richness often associated with New World Wines.
- New World Wines: Wines made in a style more focused on ripeness and big flavor, and less on representing place, classical structure and food friendliness. The driving force behind the popularity of New World Wines is complex and has many causes: the easy-to-like fruit-forward ripeness in New World wines are easy to understand for consumers that were raised on Welch’s grape juice, Coca Cola, milkshakes and rich, sweet beverages and highly flavored snack foods; also kingmaker critics that enjoy the ‘bigger is better’ style give highly ripe wines elevated numerical scores which serve as a crutch of sorts for an American wine culture unable or unwilling to trust their own intuition in choosing wines. In a less cynical summation, New World wines are fruity and delicious and easy to understand, and as such, they have usurped the old European monopoly on wine production. New World wines and wineries have made wine affordable and easily accessible for all Americans and much of the civilized world.