Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wine for a New World

The terms Old World and New World are used quite often in wine-speak. They imply not only a physical location where the grapes are grown and the wine is produced, but they also imply the idea of a style of wine.

The Old World in wine is pretty much Europe and includes places where wine has been made for multiple centuries and is a part of the tradition and lifestyle. The New World is everywhere else, where wine industry is a phenomenon of the last 150-200 years or so, and the culture-at-large still leans toward beer and/or distilled spirits.

As far as style is concerned (you know how I like to think of wine the way I think of people) Old World Wines are quite like that beautiful woman in the long dress who barely looks in your direction and makes you work hard to get her attention. They don’t show all their cards on the first sip, they often age beautifully and improve over the years, and even those entry level wines that aren’t built for aging are still quite coy. New World Wines in general are more gregarious. You might find they remind you of an episode of Girls Gone Wild Spring Break - they are cute and perky and leave very little to the imagination.

The Old World has that kind of opinion about the New World wine consumer, particularly the rapidly growing number of wine drinkers in the United States to whom every wine producer and his grandmother wants to sell some vino. Their very wide sweeping assumption is that we are Coca-Cola Nation - we grew up with lots of sugar, everything we eat slaps you with in-your-face flavor as soon as it hits your palate. They think that’s how we like it. In some cases they even produce a separate wine for export to the US, thinking they have done a good job pleasing our palates.

I submit that there are far too many people drinking wine in America for such a sweeping generalization to be true. I don’t think wine for a new world should all be fruit forward, crowd pleasing grown-up juice. In fact, I offer another curve ball: the same person can be a different kind of wine drinker depending on the scenario - with or without food, alone or with friends or with a love interest, in cold or warm weather - these could all mean different wine needs!

What consumers in the New World DO need in general though is to feel more confident about buying wine. When the Old World of wine is producing something to send out to the damn Yankees, they should think a lot more about packaging that communicates well with the consumer than changing the wine inside to fit some stereotypical new world style. Because satisfaction in wine should come from finding and drinking wines you love, based on what they were meant to be from the start of their lives that vintage, not based on how well they were doctored up to please the lowest common denominator. In that, we will all find satisfaction.

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