3 Things to Know: Old World vs. New World

Old World vs. New World wines

In March, I signed up for a four-part Wine 101 course to learn about winemaking regions, grapes and most importantly, how to taste wine. There’s a lot to learn about vino and where it comes from, most of which isn’t necessary for someone who drinks casually and not as a career, à la sommelier or winemaker. But it’s important to know the basics, which will help you when ordering a glass of wine at a restaurant or picking a bottle at your supermarket amongst dozens of options.

So I’m breaking it down for you as part of a series: 3 Things to Know About Wine. That’s it, three things, facts, tidbits, “did you know’s?” that can help you become a better consumer and purchaser. This week, we’ll dive into Old World vs. New World wines. 

Pinkies up.

1.  My server was explaining the wine list and mentioned “Old World” wines. Huh? Is there a “New World” type of wine too? 

YAS, there is such a thing as New World wine. Let me explain: this terminology is used to differentiate wines made in countries where winemaking first originated (Old World) versus countries where winemaking is still fairly “new” (New World). Here are some examples:

Old World wine regions







New World wine regions 

United States


New Zealand

South Africa




2. Cool, so why did he just refer to my Pinot Noir pick as a red Burgundy? 

Same wine, different names.  Old World wines tend to be named by region, while New World wines are named by grape. In this example, Pinot Noir is the name of the grape, and Burgundy is the name of a wine-making region in France that grows Pinot Noir grapes. Below in bold are examples of the same wine, but labeled differently depending on what region of the world it was produced:

Sauvignon Blanc (grape) =  Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé (regions)

Pinot Noir = red Burgundy 

Chardonnay = white Burgundy  

Cabernet Sauvignon = Bordeaux (Note: Bordeaux is usually a blend of two or more grapes from the Bordeaux region which can include: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot).

3. This red Burgundy tastes different from the Pinot Noir I usually drink from Oregon. What gives?  

There are plenty of factors that affect the taste of wine. Like chefs, winemakers have their own “recipes” for making wines. Some choose to leave the skins on the grapes for a longer period of time, resulting in a more “tannic” (astringent) wine, or some choose to age the juice in oak barrels versus stainless steel. But let’s back up, and start with the grapes and the environment they were grown in, commonly referred to as “terroir.” Some factors that determine terroir  include climate (temperature and rainfall), typography (the altitude of the vineyard), sunlight and soil type. While Pinot Noir grapes are grown in  Oregon and Burgundy (eastern France) due to their similar climates, they have different soil types, which result in slightly different tasting grapes.


Image: Sex and the City / HBO


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