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At Total Wine & More, we’re often asked what the difference is between Old World and New World wines. Although we hate to generalize about wine, there are a few key distinctions that often ring true when discussing what separates these two worlds.

In wine terms, the Old World constitutes Europe and the Middle East, areas that have millennia of winemaking history and often abide by age-old viticultural practices, many of which have been codified into law to ensure consistency and authenticity. While Old World wines are markedly different from one another, some attributes tie them together.

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Morning vineyard view of the town of St.-Émilion, Bordeaux, France.

In comparison to New World wines, their flavors may seem less pronounced, lower in alcohol, higher in acidity and more tannic. These wines are best enjoyed with food. They’re frequently described as earthy or herbaceous, whereas New World wines are commonly associated with bold and fruit-forward flavors and aromas, often with the fuller body and flavors associated with aging in new oak barrels. As a result, Old World wines are typically considered more elegant and refined in style than New World wines.

Of course, you’d be hard-pressed to find a wine critic who would call a 1986 Caymus Special Selection Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “unrefined.” In fact, Napa Valley’s remarkable wines were critical in legitimizing the New World wine industry.

In 1976, California wines trumped some of France’s greatest reds and whites in the Judgment of Paris, a now historic wine tasting that opened the door to the New World. Now, the New World is much more than Napa Valley. It most prominently includes the whole of the North America, Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa.

Although many of these countries have long winemaking traditions, serious commercial investment has only come in recent decades, which means much of the viticulture boasts state-of-the-art agricultural techniques. New World producers are often associated with a greater investment in technology, which allows for increased production and efficiency.

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The view from Pritchard Hill at Chappellet Winery.

In contrast to the Old World, the New World is known for its drink-now wines, which are often assigned adjectives like big, lush, fruity and ripe. Many of the New World’s greatest winemaking regions are in warm climates that can produce wines with higher alcohol content and riper flavor.

And yet, the lines between one world and another may be fading. Old World wineries have begun producing fruit-forward, New World-style wines, while many New World wineries aim to produce lower-alcohol, unoaked wines that reflect a distinctly European style.

See how it all began and get a taste of the Old World by stopping by your local Total Wine & More or shopping online.