The terms ‘Old World’ (OW) and ‘New World’ (NW) have been in regular use since the last quarter of the 20th century, to distinguish between wines made in the classic wine producing countries of Europe, and those of countries first encountered by Europeans in the sixteenth century and beyond.
Today, however, there is a growing debate about the accuracy and relevance of these categorisations.
Recently, we surveyed a number of wine professionals across a range of areas, to uncover whether these are still useful terms or not.
Perceptions of the Old World and New World
The terminology of NW and OW, though widely understood, reveals a nuanced and complex reality.
In interviews with wine experts, it becomes evident that while these terms are widely recognised, there are subtle variations in their interpretation. One intriguing observation is that many experts automatically associate NW and OW with wine, without considering their broader historical connotations rooted in colonialism.
Most experts agree on the countries geographically associated with each category, with central European nations aligning with the OW and regions beyond central Europe encompassing the NW. Descriptors such as “Europe” are frequently employed to delineate these territories; Europeans often use the term “overseas” to denote non-European countries.
NW wines are often characterised by their bold, fruit-forward profiles, with producers understood to value flexibility and the willingness to experiment. In contrast, OW wines are perceived as more traditional, adhering to stringent rules and regulations and emphasising classic winemaking techniques.
While the experts acknowledge the existence of stereotypes and prejudices tied to these terms, they are quick to point out that they do not necessarily endorse or embrace them.
As the wine industry undergoes gradual but significant transformations, the validity and utility of NW and OW are being re-examined. Some experts assert that they retain value, particularly in educational contexts and marketing efforts, as they provide historical context and assist consumers in understanding wine evolution. Others argue for more precise and contemporary language, echoing concerns about the negative associations and outdated connotations tied to NW and OW.
The overarching debate surrounding these terms extends beyond the confines of the wine industry. It reflects broader societal shifts towards cultural sensitivity, a re-evaluation of historical biases and a desire for language that respects diverse perspectives.
A new terminology
Wine enthusiasts have introduced alternative terms to capture the complexity of the wine world. Terms like “Emerging World” (EW), “Ancient World” (AW) and "New New World" (NNW) have emerged. However, these alternative classifications have not yet gained widespread acceptance, leaving the industry in a state of linguistic flux.
The introduction of these new terms underscores the need for a language that more accurately describes the intricate tapestry of global wine production. While some see these terms as a step in the right direction, others consider them as unnecessary jargon that complicates rather than simplifies wine communication.
Taking consumer perspective vs expert information
While there is a consensus among experts that some form of categorisation is necessary to help consumers identify wines by their origins, there is a growing scepticism about whether NW and OW are the most appropriate terms for the task. The challenge lies in striking a balance between simplification for consumers and providing meaningful information about wines.
Experts contend that the focus should shift towards identifying wines by their specific countries and regions. This approach fosters a richer understanding of the diverse origins of wine and recognises that the wine world is not neatly divided into two categories. By emphasising individual regions, enthusiasts can delve deeper into the unique characteristics and nuances that each area offers.
Do we need a more inclusive wine language?
The terms "New World" and "Old World" have played a role in simplifying the complex world of wine. However, their relevance is being questioned as the wine industry evolves and as society becomes more culturally aware. Experts anticipate a gradual decline in their significance, particularly among newer generations of wine enthusiasts who are more attuned to cultural sensitivities and the nuances of language.
As global connectivity and wine availability continue to increase, a more precise and inclusive wine language may emerge, which better reflects the changing dynamics of the industry. The industry's focus should ultimately shift towards educating consumers about individual wine origins and styles, and fostering a deeper appreciation for the diversity of wines worldwide.
The research employed the empirical method of exploratory interviews to collect qualitative data through open-ended questions in structured interviews. In total 30 interviews were conducted. The participants included wine experts from OW and NW wine countries as well as wine-producing countries that did not fit into the NW and OW definitions. Those surveyed included an MW, a winner of ‘Best Sommelier of the World’, winemakers, wine directors, the press and wine critics.