Old World Lessons

Updated: Feb 3

My inclination is to use wines produced in Europe ("Old World") as a basis for learning about other wines even though I live close to Napa, home of arguably the most influential wines produced outside of Europe ("New World"). Old World wine often has a more complex, earthy flavor profile than many straightforward, fruity wines from the New World, though the spread of technology has blurred this distinction somewhat. You may prefer one profile depending on where you started drinking wine, but your palate may change over time, and your preference may vary by situation.

Learning about Old World wine is useful not only because they produce commercial quantities of quality wines from more varieties and more styles than those from the New World, but also because Europe's history and culture offers many opportunities to understand how people and place affect the wine they produce.

Learning about the wines of several Old World countries is a foundation for understanding wines worldwide. This will allow you to appreciate the "international varieties" and give you some exposure to the large number of varieties grown primarily in specific regions.

France produces wine from many varieties considered benchmarks for their style. Most of these varieties (e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Gamay, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris) have become international varieties because they have been adopted worldwide.

Italy has a large number of delightful autochthonous varieties, rarely grown well or at all elsewhere (e.g., Aglianico, Aleatico, Barbera, Corvina, Croatina, Dolcetto, Frappato, Gaglioppo, Lambrusco, Marzemino, Montepulciano, Nebbiolo, Nerello, Petit Rouge, Refosco, Sangiovese, Schiava, Teroldego, Trebbiano, Ansonica, Carricante, Catarratto, Garganega, Glera, Grillo, Malvasia, Verdicchio, Vermentino, Vernaccia, Zibibbo).

Spain produces a large amount of excellent still, sparkling, and fortified wine from native varieties (Garnancha, Graciano, Mazuelo, Mencia, Tempranillo, Albariño, Godello, Macabeo, Parellada, Verdejo, Xarel-lo).

Portual is home of a large number of varieties (e.g., Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinto Cão, Sercial, Verdelho, Boal, Malvasia, Tinta Negra, Alvarinho, Loureiro) used to make famous wines like Port, Madeira, and Vinho Verde.

Germany is known for Riesling, an international variety, and varieties rarely grown elsewhere (e.g., Kerner, Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Dornfelder, Portugieser).

Greece also has an abundance of indigenous wine grapes worth noting (e.g., Agiorghitiko, Xinomavro, Mavrodaphne, Assyrtiko, Athiri, Malagousia, Moschofilero, Robola, Roditis).

The variety and traditions of Old World wine are why I use them as a basis for learning about other wines. The fact that some New World wines continue to debase Old World wines by expropriating their names (e.g., Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Port) confirms that Old World wines are the appropriate benchmark for comparison.

Old World viticulture and enology is also instructive when thinking about what not to emulate. Europe has significantly improved the quality of its wine by adopting the sanitation and temperature controlled fermentation practices of the New World. Yet some producers in some regions, such as Languedoc-Rousillon, resort to fraud, violence and seek government subsidies rather than make changes to improve their competitiveness.

Government does have a role in supporting fair commerce, such as by banning misleading advertising, but disrupting market forces with onerous regulations and preferential treatment consistently lead to economic (and personal) dislocation. Fairness means equal opportunities (e.g., bilateral trade agreements), not equal outcomes (e.g., multilateral trade agreements), as forcing one group to support another group is the most unfair of all.

Businesses will succeed or fail on their own, without interference from tariffs or subsidies.

Weaponizing or coddling business simply weakens consumer choices.

A la vòstra!


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