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And In This Corner

Old world and new world wines face off


Judging from the success of World Wrestling Federation's Smackdown, fights are a growing pleasure filled with guilt. These days, in the ring are two competing factions in the wine world. In one corner, wearing plaid pants and a staid necktie is the old world (France, Spain, Germany, Italy); in the opposite corner, wearing DKNY and body jewelry in an unspeakable place is the new world (US, Australia, South America, South Africa). The old-timers, usually the grave know-it-alls, sit back and do things the traditional way, while the trash-talking teenagers are out having wine orgies and pissing off the establishment.Round one: the advertising begins. If you haven't noticed, lately there has been an influx of wine consumer advertising. Unusual wine marketing avenues such as billboards and radio have been spotted as some savvy new world producers try to reach into your pockets.

Round two: labeling. I've harped on France's complicated French labeling, and the new world wineries have captured the hearts of many a wine drinker simply by telling us the grape name and slapping a clever moniker on the bottle. Some great whimsical ones I've seen lately: Porcupine Ridge's Goats do Roam from South Africa, California's Toad Hollow Eye of the Toad, and Australia's Madfish Winery.

I recently attended a press conference where the French wine industry unveiled a pumped-up marketing schema for the US, centering on how to make their wine more user-friendly and approachable. They'll be implementing a program with easier-to-understand varietal labeling (meaning: with the grape name on it), but this won't extend to the venerable and confusing French "Appellation d'Origine Controlee" (AOC) wines (the wines labeled by region). So, this means some wines in the "lesser quality" regions of Burgundy will be labeled Pinot Noir, and then others down the road such as Gevry Chambertin or Nuits St. George will remain a mystery for the average wine buyer.

But the main difference between the old and new world are the wines themselves. In the old world, governments heavily regulate the winemaking processes. They even standardize the amount of grapes harvested per acre, and how long the wine must age. In other words, the winemakers' opportunities for innovation are limited, and the old traditions are so ingrained that change is frowned upon. Thus, the wines remain somewhat alike, possessing high quality and character, but reflect very little of the winemaker's personality.

South America, specifically Argentina and Chile, are leaning towards the "old world" category, simply because the French got their claws in early. Currently, there are several successful French/Argentinean ventures, such as the Catena Winery that works with the wildly profitable Rothschild company out of Bordeaux.

New Worlders -- Americans and Australians -- in their usual cocky and arrogant way, prefer to thumb their nose at tradition. Generally speaking, they make comfortable, fruity wines for people who aren't collectors or looking to elevate wine to a cult-like status. Their wines reflect a desire to create wines for the masses, wines for everyday consumption, wines made for the modern palate. With less regulation, new world winemakers can run free and create more innovative wines.

So it might seem that the fight is a stalemate, with the consumer winning. Never before have wine drinkers had so much choice for their daily consumption.

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