It’s safe to say that a common motif flowing through America is not “less is more.” In fact, you may have quite a bit of success arguing the opposite. Taking into account the big cars, homes, buildings, food and energy consumption, etc., it’s difficult to oppose that mentality unless you keep yourself informed and thus make conscious efforts to alter the only lifestyle you’ve ever known.
Observing at a much less grand, critical scale, there’s something I’ve picked up on about myself and my tendencies regarding wine that mildly pertains to the “bigger is better” attitude that is flaunted throughout our country. But in order to fully understand the analogy, I’d like to enlighten you with a rudimentary geographical breakdown that distinguishes between the pioneer winemaking regions and the newcomers.
France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria and Portugal comprise a large majority of the wine regions that are considered of the “Old World.” If you ever hear someone referring to the smell or taste of wine as “expressing an Old World style,” you can think back to wines you’ve had from Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, or your home of the United States and know they weren’t referring to them. These areas represent the “New World,” and while it can truly be incredibly ambiguous to speak about a wine exhibiting new or old world qualities, there are some benchmarks that make it, well, undeservingly understandable.
In my experience, many wines of the Old World I’ve consumed have a rustic scent and feel to them. Perhaps the fruit isn’t as accentuated as some New World wines, or if it is, it plays its part and is careful not to overshadow any other one aspect of the wine. It’s very much not a free-for-all, and the end result of the most prized wines of the Old World is that of finesse, elegance, and refinement. In the same sense that it seems eccentric to go against the grain in our country in terms of accepting a “less is more” philosophy, it’s considered quite rebellious and even objectionable for Old World wine regions to tamper with or manipulate their wine, for they were graced with the most ideal agriculture, climate and growing conditions one could ever dream of.
As for the New World, a lot of the attention that had been completely drawn to France for centuries became a bit more dispersed and directed especially towards California in the 1970’s. When the appellation of Napa Valley took the world by surprise, it was only possible because it maintained a clear-cut link to the impervious wines of Bordeaux, France. Napa was relatable firstly because they were growing the grape varietals that were indigenous to France (such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) and they were doing it in impressionable fashion. But perhaps even more importantly, they were honoring their fortune of nearly equally stellar growing conditions by exemplifying their own terroir and creating sophisticated, yet balanced wine.
As time went on, the ideology and tradition behind making the most natural, pure wine seemed less and less important to the New World wine producing regions. Sourcing the best grapes from various regions to make one wine, inoculated or cultured yeast, and countless other “interventionist” tactics validate this.
So, by now, you may have (understandably) forgotten, but this all boils down to my revelation. Since my first rendezvous into the wine world, I’ve noticed I’ve always been slightly partial to the wines that lacked a little grace. The wines that you can chew, that leave you doused in goo from the handful of blackberries you just manhandled, or the wood chips immersed in butter and citrus that you just sucked down (one is a red and one is a white, in case my metaphors didn‘t quite register). I’m talking about the wines that actually weigh down your tongue the second they make contact. These wines are admittedly unbalanced. And this is not to say that they have been tampered with, or that they are definitely “New World,” or that you can’t discern that sense of place from a prime Chilean red (because, my goodness, you certainly can), but could it be more of that ancient, aristocratic intimidation…(wait for it)…in conjunction with the American way that leads me and much of my generation towards the most action-packed, bombastic wines?!
Truth be told, I love “New” and “Old World” wine equally at this point in time. But I do wonder if my tastes will change, necessitating me towards fear of bold, fruity, spicy Shiraz by the time I hit 70. I’d hope to not soften too much with age, but I guess we’ll have to see.