Like a precocious kid who doesn't know her place, California beat France again in a recreation of the famous 1976 Paris Wine Tasting. Does this mean France has lost its edge, or that American ingenuity conquers all? In a word, NO. It does, however, speak to the fact that despite rapid globalization, there is still a significant distinction between Old World wines and their New World counterparts, and that's good news for everyone. Why not have a Paris tasting in your own backyard this month, paired with a simple Shrimp Salad or hearty cheese, and vive la différence.
Old World refers to wines made in Europe, and New world refers to those made everywhere else. Sounds a bit Eurocentric, but across the pond they have been making wine for thousands upon thousands of years. They've honed their craft though famine, war, and epidemics. Surely, they'll survive current trends. That said, the New World's relatively nascent industry has made fantastic strides in the last century. What we lack in experience we more than make up for in creativity, technology and innovation. Without us, Europe would never have survived phylloxera plague of the 1800's. Of course, without us they never would have gotten the destructive little yellow pests it in the first place, but that's another story.
One of the more useful things about the OW/NW differences is that they makes it easier for consumers to categorize wine. The climate, tradition, and "terrior" -- that special combination of place, air and soil -- of the Old World creates wines that are leaner, higher in acidity, better with food, subtle and a little funky. Some folks want the funk, some don't.
If you prefer fruit-forward, full-bodied, powerful wines that can stand alone, the "clean and bright" style of the New World is for you. With abundant sunshine and modern methods (strict Old World regulations even prohibit irrigation) the New World grows great fruit with clear varietal expression, which is why California is such a contender. Indeed, the greatest factor in a wine's character is the grape itself. So, if you like Chardonnay, it's a worth trying its Old World counterpart, white Burgundy, which brings us the other major distinction worth noting. Old World wines are often named for the place; in the New World wines are named for the grape. Imagine if Burgundy were Brooklyn. Instead of St. Denis, Macon Villages or Volnay, the wines would be called Canarsie, Bed-Stuy, and Bushwick. Hmm. Not quite the same. Below are some famous regions and the varietal translations. Pick your favorite pair and enjoy.
Rioja -- Tempranillo
Red Burgundy -- Pinot Noir
White Burgundy -- Chardonnay
Red Bordeaux -- Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc
White Bordeaux -- Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon
Vouvray -- Chenin Blanc
Sancerre -- Sauvignon Blanc
Chianti -- Sangiovese
Barolo -- Nebbiolo
Barbaresco -- Nebbiolo