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Old World vs New World Wines: What's the Difference?

As a wine enthusiast, you may have heard the terms “Old World” and “New World” thrown around in the community. While these phrases refer to where a wine comes from, they can also tell us an abundance about its taste, structure, and more.

In this article, we’ll discuss both Old World and New World styles of wine, their unique qualities, and which regions produce them.

Old World vs New World Wines Infographic

What is “Old World” Wine?

The term “old world” generally refers to wines made in Europe, but it can also refer to areas of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. These wines are characterized by traditional winemaking and viticulture practices used to produce wine for several centuries. 

Old World wines reach their expression through the types of terroir (soil) they’re grown in. The vines are usually thicker and grow closely together. Traditional winemakers are partial to natural additions such as yeast instead of newer technology to influence the wine’s sweetness levels and fruitiness. 

What is “New World” Wine?

New world wines are those produced outside the traditional growing areas mentioned above. The countries considered part of the New World were recognized for winemaking after the 16th century. These wines are typically grown in hotter climates and made using innovative winemaking techniques. New World wines are often fermented in oak barrels or steel vats, while neutral wood barrels are more common in the Old World. New World wines are also labeled according to grape variety, whereas Old World wines are named after the region they come from.

Now that we know the differences between Old World and New World wine origin, let’s examine the differences in their taste.

Wine bottles lined up in a row

Old World vs New World Wine Taste

While aged wines are robust and smooth with a long finish, it’s not the same with Old World wines. In fact, it’s the opposite. Old World wines are lighter and aromatic, with bright acidity and lower alcohol. New World wines are full-bodied with less acidity, more potent alcohol content, and riper flavors.  

Old World Wine Regions

These countries have been crafting wines for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and are the originators of several grape varieties.


Considered the ultimate resource of Old World wines, France has been winemaking since the Romans. Your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay all originated here. Not to mention decadent Bordeaux blends (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carmenère) and Champagne, whose traditional winemaking methods are so protected that no other sparkling wine outside of the Champagne wine region is allowed to be called “Champagne.”

French wines have been influencing the global wine industry for hundreds of years. This is why they’re one of the top Old World countries to study. 


In terms of winemaking greatness, Italy is right there next to France. Here, you’ll find fruity Zinfandel and perfumey Chardonnay as Old World varietals. Super Tuscan wines crafted with the Italian native grape, Sangiovese, are sought after here. These blends include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah.

Sicilian viticulture has flourished for thousands of years, possibly as early as 4000 BC. Italy has remained influential in the world of wine, reaching as far as California and beyond. 

Field of wine grapes next to country road


Most wine drinkers think of Riesling when it comes to famous German wine, and that’s because Riesling is among the most prolific Old World varietals. There are few things as refreshing and sweet as an Old World Riesling. It is thought that German winemaking had peaked during the medieval era, though noble rot wasn’t discovered until the late 1700s. This fungus grown on the vine is what allows German white wines to taste so sweet, like ice wine.  


Spain has been growing an abundance of grape varieties for centuries. Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache), and Rioja are some of the most famous Old World Spanish wines. Spanish wines continue to romance the industry today. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Sherry was at the forefront of Spanish wine. But after the Phylloxera epidemic of the 19th century, Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, became popular. This wine would rival France’s Champagne. 


Famous for its fortified wines today, like Port, Madeira was incredibly popular with early American settlers. In fact, this wine might have influenced Thomas Jefferson to craft his own wine.

We’ve explored the world’s earliest wine regions and some of their most influential varietals. Let’s continue our venture into the most notable New World regions.

New World Wine Regions

The countries below are slightly newer to the wine industry. Many may not have originated grape varietals like their Old World predecessors, but they’ve become innovators in winemaking, crafting traditional varietals in previously unseen ways.

United States

With places like Napa Valley and Sonoma County as one of the workhouse manufacturers of North American wine, California is a popular destination for wine lovers. What France started in the old world, California continues in the new world. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and California “Champagne” are just a few of the many sought-after wines here. Although other states like Washington, New York, and Oregon are also known for their wine, California produces 90% of United States wine.


Before the Phylloxera epidemic of the 1860s, settlers took several French grape varieties to Argentina. When the epidemic hit, much of France’s vineyards were wiped out, leaving Argentina to pick up the torch for several of their original grape varieties. As a result, France’s original Malbec became the flagship grape of Argentina. 

The fifth-largest wine producer, Argentina's winemaking practices date back to the 1500s when the Spanish governed its wine industry. The Mendoza Province is the country’s primary wine producer and a top tourist destination.

Wine vineyard in Chile


Argentina isn’t the only country in South America to have adopted French winemaking practices. Here, you will find original vines of France’s Carmenère grape, along with luscious Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Chile has been working with Bordeaux grapes since the mid-19th century, with Carmenère as its flagship varietal.


Despite its scorching climate, Australia is a leading producer and exporter of New World wine. This country is famous for its exquisite Syrah, which most locals call “Shiraz.” Vine cuttings were introduced to Australia in the late 1700s via the First Fleet. By the late 1880s, Australia began winning prizes in Europe for its wine. Today, they are one of the largest exporters of the world’s wine.

Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, and Clare Valley are just a few of Australia’s top wine-producing regions.

South Africa

The oldest New World wine region on our list, South Africa, has been crafting exquisite wines since the 1600s, with the first vines planted in Cape Town. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the rest of the world began to recognize South Africa as a wine industry contender. South Africa is famous for crafting beautiful red and white wines like Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Carignan, and Zinfandel.

New Zealand 

With settlers from Eastern Europe having first started its wine industry, New Zealand prevails when it comes to unique renditions of Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand crafts tropical white wines that often have a distinct herbal note. This is a contrast to the mineral Sauvignon Blanc originally grown in French terroir. New Zealand has been crafting wines since the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the 1970s, 80s, and 90s that they began to gain recognition for their distinct Sauvignon Blanc. 


Due to prohibition laws in the early 20th century, it wasn’t until the 1990s that Canada’s viticulture improved, and grape varieties began to expand. Southern Ontario and British Colombia are known for producing Bordeaux varieties like Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc and German wines like Riesling and Ice Wine. 


Last but not least, China is an up-and-coming New World wine producer, but what many don’t know is that this country has been making wine since 7000 BCE. Partnering French winemaking tactics with new winemaking technology, China has only been a part of the New World winemaking scene since 2005. Despite its youth, Cabernet Sauvignon is China’s top wine. 

Wine bottles on wine racks

Endless Possibilities in the Wine World

Whether you’re tasting a New World wine from South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand or an Old World blend from France or Italy, you’re sipping a unique part of history.

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