Wine Vocabulary: Old World, New World
You won't find this terminology in wine books more than a few years old, although the "Oxford Wine Companion" touches on it, and Andrea Immer's excellent new "Great Wine Made Simple" addresses it in considerable detail.
What's it all about? To make a long story as short as possible, this vast oversimplification separates the Old World (Europe, and perhaps South Africa) from the New World (the Americas and Australasia) on the basis of the style of wines they produce.
"Old World," by this definition, means wines of subtlety and grace, balanced and elegant wines that show the earthy nature of the soil in which they grow (a character that the experts call "terroir").
"New World," in contrast, means big, aggressive wines - the vinous equivalent of the stereotypical American tourist in Bermuda shorts and a colorful Hawaiian shirt - wines in which bold fruit predominates, with plenty of winery manipulation and oak-barrel treatment showing the wine maker's hand.
There's plenty of overlapping, of course; and when a European winemaker produces a fruity, oak-laden wine, it is generally identified as "international" in style. It is also likely to win a high score from the influential critic Robert M. Parker Jr., who appears to prefer wines in this style and who may share some of the credit (or blame) for their proliferation.
Having grown up and cut my wine-tasting teeth in the Eastern U.S., which has traditionally looked more to Europe than California for wine, I tend to prefer the Old World style myself. But I like to think that I can find the merits in both a funky, earthy French provincial item and a big fruity blockbuster from the U.S. West Coast or Australia. Not to mention the delicious examples that prove the rule, like the outstanding Old World-style California wine featured in this week's tasting note.
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A New World wine with Old World style
Named for the two vineyards in California's Gold Rush country where the grapes were grown, this impressive wine is almost entirely Syrah, blended with a tiny portion (less than 1 percent) of white Viognier, an odd mix that's also found in the Rhone's Cote-Rotie. Very dark ruby in color, black at the center, it's clear but not brilliant, showing the appropriate density of an unfiltered wine. Ripe, plummy fruit aromas add pleasant menthol and black-pepper notes; whiffs of smoke and "bacon fat" add complexity and a distinct Rhone-like character. Full and bright, flavors follow the nose; abundant fruit and earthy complexity. Marked tannic astringency and high (14.1%) alcohol make for a rather hot finish, a youthful characteristic that will likely mellow with cellar time. A fine wine, bridges the Old world and the New. (Sept. 4, 2001)
FOOD MATCH: A pan-grilled rare steak with plenty of garlic makes a fine foil for the wine and "tames" the tannins.
WINERY WEBSITE: The Website is at http://www.edmundsstjohn.com/. You'll find the fact sheet on this specific wine at http://www.edmundsstjohn.com/TheWines/WylieFenaughty/.
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Vol. 3, No. 34, Sept. 10, 2001