People have taken up a lot of new hobbies during 2020, from making sourdough to learning a new language. Trying out new beverages is no exception! With more people drinking at home than ever before, I thought it might be helpful to make a cheat sheet for exploring new wines.
Wine can be overwhelming because there are just so many options. I often get text messages asking me to recommend a wine, usually along the lines of “I like reds, pick me something.” This invariably leads to follow-up questions from me: do you want something fruit-forward or earthy? Something to pair with dinner or just to enjoy on its own? The questions can go on and on because there are nearly infinite nuances. So, it may be helpful for “beginners” to think of wines in terms of Old World vs. New World.
Old and New World designations reference countries in which the wine is made. “Old World” wines refer to wines from the countries that originated winemaking itself – France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal – countries that have been making wine for thousands of years. These countries modernized winemaking and influenced the rest of the world.
Old World wines have some distinguishing characteristics. Generally, the growing region in these countries is cooler, which leads to lower alcohol content and higher acidity. Old World wines tend to have more minerality and less fruit than New World wines. The higher acidity in Old World wines helps to stimulate your palate, making them ideal for pairing with food.
“New World” refers to areas that “borrowed” winemaking techniques from the Old World. For example, North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand. New World growing regions often have warmer climates, leading to higher alcohol content, lower acidity, and more fruit. Think of a California Zinfandel, for example, which is usually higher in alcohol and very fruit-forward.
I drink more Old World wines, because I prefer the minerality of Old World over the fruitiness of New World wines. That said, there are thousands of wines to try and I am not above trying them all to see if I can be swayed. There are some New World wines I truly enjoy: Oregon Pinot Noir has an earthiness that I like, as well as Bordeaux Blends from Washington State.
Just reading about wines isn’t nearly as much fun as drinking them, so I’ve devised an at-home experiment to put this into practice. We’ll start simple with two whites and two reds, one New World and one Old World in each category. See if you can taste the difference!
- Domaine Rene Malleron Sancerre
- Waipapa Bay Sauvignon Blanc
- Navigator Napa Valley Red Blend
- Chateau Beard La Chapelle
Take a sip of each wine and try not to overthink it. Make notes. What did you notice, what did you like, and what did you not like? Don’t worry if you don’t taste what other people taste. Everyone is different, and wine is meant to be fun, but if you get stuck, I put in a few tasting notes in the following paragraphs.
Domaine Rene Malleron Sancerre (Loire Valley, France)
Waipapa Bay Sauvignon Blanc (Marlbough, New Zealand)
Sancerre is a place, not a type of grape. Old World wines tend to use places to identify the wines rather than the varietal of grape. This is starting to shift as you see more wines switching to the varietal on the label. When you taste these two wines side by side you will likely notice the difference in taste: the Sancerre is much rounder and has more minerality, while the Waipapa Bay is crisper with more citrus fruits.
Navigator Napa Valley Red Blend (Napa Valley, California)
Chateau Beard La Chapelle (Bordeaux, France)
Don’t let Bordeaux scare you, it is just a fancy way of saying “Red Blend!” This fun pairing takes the king of California vs. the king of France. Both wines are primarily Merlot, but one is much more fruit-forward, while the other has less fruit and more robust tannins. I’ll let you decide which one you prefer.
So there you have it. I hope you enjoy expanding your palate and making more informed selections with this as a guide. Don’t forget that Liquor Barn offers delivery, so you can feel free to try new wines without ever leaving your personal chateau!
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