New-Old World

New World. Old World. What’s with those wine categories?

Any description must be broad, but terms can be explained with that caveat accepted.

Old World wines are made in countries considered the birthplace of wine; they have traditions and regulations going back hundreds, even thousands of years.

France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Greece and others are Old World wine countries.

New World wines come from countries that typically once were colonies of Old World countries.

United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, and Chile are major New World wine countries.

Old World wines tend to be more restrained and lower in alcohol, usually tailored to complement food. Old World label standards, usually based on location rather than grape variety, tend to be rigid and confusing to Americans. Wine making is very restrictive; often exact grapes to be used and precisely how to use those grapes is written into law.

New World wines tend to be more full bodied with bolder fruit flavors and greater alcohol, often due to warmer climate, but also to wine growing and wine making techniques. New World winemakers often ignore rules simply to see what will happen. Emphasis is on taste and taking advantage of innovations. New World wines can be a meal unto themselves, or consumed as you would a cocktail.

You can find examples of New World makers making Old World-style wines, and Old World makers applying New World lessons—Italian Super Tuscans are a vivid and wildly successful example.

As wine became a world-wide product with container ships delivering from everywhere to everywhere, with makers apprenticing everywhere, with China emerging as world’s leading wine consuming country (the U.S. currently clings to the title; France, Italy and Spain observe in slack-jawed amazement), distinctions get fuzzier every vintage.

For now, however, take your choice, or—as do most—toast and enjoy diversity.

Tasting notes:

• Delectus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006: Gloriously delicious, superb value even at this price, a must-taste experience. $62-80

• Orma Toscana 2009: Super Tuscan flirts with greatness; 94 Wine Enthusiast, 92 Wine Spectator, 95 James Suckling, 93-94 Parker. $65-85

Last round: Wine. Stuff that helps take the “h” out of whine.