Old world? New world?

A world of wine and so many tastes


Distinguishing between the old masters and the new kids on the block.

It's inevitable; if you're new to wine and discovering all of the related terminologies, there are several twists and turns along the way that are likely to stump you. One thing every wine enthusiast will come across at some point in their wine journey is the concept of 'Old World' and 'New World' wines. You can find yourself in a position where, for example, you've just learned about Pinot Noir and its general characteristics, and now you're discovering that there can be Old World Pinot Noir and New World Pinot Noir - and you might even need to use a different glass, depending on which it is!

So, what do these terms mean, and why does it matter? To help budding wine lovers overcome this potentially confusing area, in this blog, we'll talk about the fundamental differences between the meanings of the terms 'Old World' and 'New World' and the differences this can make to the wine you're enjoying.


What do Old World and New World mean?

'Old World' and 'New World' aren't exclusively used for wine. They are used in various contexts and are simply historical and geographical terms that refer to different regions of the world - primarily in the context of the exploration and colonization of the continents.

'Old World' typically refers to Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, where many of the world's ancient civilizations originated and flourished, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and various empires. These parts of the world have the longest histories of established trade, historical exploration, and colonization.
'New World,' on the other hand, primarily encompasses the continents of the Americas and Oceania. Although indigenous groups inhabited these lands for thousands of years, the 'New World' label refers to the more recent history of these areas being explored or colonized by European nations.


Old World wine

In keeping with this general criteria, in the context of wine, the term 'Old World' refers to wine-producing regions that have a long history of viticulture and winemaking. These regions are typically located in Europe and are known for their traditional winemaking practices, mainly owing to the presence of influential empires in and around Europe over the centuries. The Roman Empire, for example, is known to have held considerable influence in spreading knowledge and technology, including winemaking techniques that enabled European countries to refine vineyard growth and wine production. Some notable 'Old World' wine regions include:

  • France - known to many wine lovers as the greatest wine country of all. France is home to some of the world's most famous wine regions, such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne, as well as some of the best-known grape varieties, including Pinot, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah.
  • Italy - another country with a rich wine heritage and famed winemaking regions, including Tuscany, Piedmont, and Sicily.
  • Spain - home of the Rioja wine region, notable grape varieties like Tempranillo and Garnacha, plus famed wine-based beverages such as Sangria.
  • Portugal - perhaps best known for its fortified wine. Every year, people from all over visit the Douro Valley to experience Portugal's port production heritage.
  • Germany - renowned for its Riesling wines from regions like the Mosel and Rheingau.

New World wine

If 'Old World' refers to wine-producing regions with a long history of viticulture and winemaking, the logical (and correct) conclusion to draw is that 'New World' references parts of the world that are relatively new to wine production compared to the traditional winemaking history of Europe. Some of the best-known 'New World' wine production regions include:

  • The United States - most notably the west coast states of California, Oregon, and Washington.
  • Argentina - famed for its Malbec wines.
  • Chile - the most prolific New World wine exporting country.
  • Australia - home of famed wine-growing regions such as Magaret River and Hunter Valley.
  • New Zealand - known particularly for its Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wine.
  • South Africa - which has become known for its Bordeaux-style red blends, Chenin Blanc, and Pinotage.

Despite their comparatively recent introduction to the world of wine production, New World wine regions comprise some of the fastest-growing wine regions in the worldChina, for example, is seeing a faster increase in wine production than any other country, while warming climates are seeing countries that were previously considered too cold now producing more vineyards, such as Canada.

The differences between Old World and New World wines

So we've explained what Old World and New World mean, but what difference does this make to their qualities and how you should drink them? A few key variables lead to Old World and New World grape varieties being associated with different attributes and characteristics. There is, therefore, a need in some cases for one wine glass designed to make the most of a grape variety produced in the Old World, and another wine glass designed to make the most of that same variety grown in the New World. So, what are these variables?



It'll be no surprise to hear that climate variability considerably impacts a wine's qualities. Warmer growing seasons typically result in grapes with higher sugar levels, lower acidity, and faster ripening. In comparison, cooler growing seasons result in grapes with lower sugar levels, higher acidity, and slower ripening.

Generally, Old World wine-producing regions have temperate climates that produce subtly balanced wines with high minerality, while New World wines often have lower acidity and pronounced fruit flavors. This is underlined by major European wine regions such as France, Northern Italy, and Germany, all having temperate climates, while California, Australia, and Chile are all significant contributors to the New World wine market. This is far from a hard and fast rule, though, especially in the case of New World wines, with plenty of countries (New Zealand, Canada) and regions (Washington, USA) having cool to temperate climates.


'Terroir' encompasses the complete natural environment where wine is produced, including the climate, but also the soil and the topography around vineyards. 

The key terroir difference between Old World and New World wines actually has more to do with how winemakers consider this variable. Wine producers in the Old World place a strong emphasis on terroir, and wine styles often reflect the unique characteristics of a region's geography and cultural practices. The terroir is what is being referenced when you hear of the appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) of some French wines or the denominazione di origine of Italian wines. In contrast, in the New World, less focus is placed on the terroir of the wine, with more focus going on the techniques used to make the wine - which brings us to the next variable.


Winemaking techniques

Old World wine producers more commonly favor traditional winemaking methods. This means minimal intervention on the winemaker's part, instead relying on the natural fermentation process to do the job, which often makes for balanced, acidic wines with subtle complexity. On the other hand, New World winemakers are more likely to employ modern winemaking techniques, including temperature-controlled fermentation, new oak barrels, and various aging methods, which can make for wines that are approachable at a younger age.

With so many differences in wine production between the Old World and New World, it's no wonder you end up with wines that can differ considerably. This is why, in some instances, we offer Old World glasses and New World glasses for the same grape. Take our RIEDEL Syrah and RIEDEL Shiraz glasses, for example. RIEDEL Syrah glasses are designed to deliver a long, savory finish to each sip, emphasizing Old World Syrah wines' soft fruit and earthy characteristics. Meanwhile, our RIEDEL New World-specific Shiraz glasses offer a slightly tapered opening, allowing wines to retain a dignified structure as their intense, fruity aromas develop inside the large bowl. For more information on selecting the right glass for your wine, check out our Wine Glass Guide.

Hopefully that clarifies the differences between the terms 'Old World' and 'New World' and how they relate to wine. It may seem like an unusual distinction to make at first, but it's something you'll likely come across during your wine journey and might help you understand why a wine exhibits certain qualities when you look at the label!