What’s the difference between wines from Europe and wines I buy from other places?

This is a question that our clients often ask me.

And you know what? That’s a really good question. What exactly IS the difference between fine wine from Europe and anywhere else? Who cares where a wine comes from – if it’s Cabernet Sauvignon from France isn’t that the same as Cabernet Sauvignon from Niagara or California or Australia?

Well the answer to this wine question is like the movie title said: “It’s Complicated.” But only if you choose to make it complicated.

The biggest difference between “old world” and “new world” wines, believe it or not, is the set of regulations that go around producing the wine type. In the “old world” (that is Europe), wine production has been around for thousands and thousands of years. Over those centuries, people began to create standards for wine production—and in French wineries, for example, that ultimately resulted in the appellation system. So when you buy a French wine and you look at the label and it says the wine was made and bottled in Bordeaux, you know where and how that wine was made.

In Canada, the US, Australia, South America and other places (the “new world”) there are also regulations about making wine.

But here’s the thing... the biggest difference is in the approach to the regulations. In Europe, if you want to have the stamp of approval on your wines you must follow dozens and dozens of rules. The attitude is that you cannot do anything to make fine wine without following the rules. If it’s not in the rules, you CAN’T do it.

In the “new world,” the approach is exactly the opposite. You can do ANYTHING you want, as long as you follow the rules that are in place for your area. If it’s not in the rules, you CAN do it.

So when I visit a winery and talk to winemakers in the old world (like Provence or Catalunya), I know that they have had to follow winery rules that in some cases have been around for generations. It gives a certain “gravitas” to their wine – and there’s no question that the wine-makers I have visited know what they’re doing!

On the other hand, when I visit a winery and talk to winemakers in the new world (such as here in Niagara or California), I know that they have much more freedom to make their wine because they are not bound by generations of rule-makers.

Does it make a difference to the taste of the wine? Yes, I think it does. But the biggest question is... Is it a good difference? And again, it depends. I like wine that comes out of the appellations in France and Spain... I like that I can buy a wine and know that it’s going to taste a certain way because of their rules. On the other hand, I also like to buy wine from the new world because sometimes the wine-makers do really cool things with wine that Europeans can’t.

So it always comes down to what you like. Which wine type do you prefer?