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France, Italy, Spain, Germany: these are the ancient Old World wine-growing regions of Europe, where continuity and history reign supreme. California, Australia, South Africa and Chile: these are some of the New World areas, where technology and science trump tradition. Old World wines tend to be light-bodied, with herbal, mineral and floral components. New World wines, thanks to warmer climates, are generally full-bodied, fruity and higher in alcohol. But which wines are the greater? To battle it out, Intelligence Squared brought together two of the UK’s most celebrated wine experts for this major debate.
Fighting for the tradition and terroir of the Old World was Jancis Robinson, wine correspondent of the Financial Times and the first person outside the wine trade to qualify as a Master of Wine.
Fighting for the modernising spirit of the New World was Oz Clarke, the last winner of the World Wine Tasting Championship, and the youngest ever British Wine Taster of the Year.
When it comes to the Old World, Robinson argued, you can’t beat thousands of years of experience. Europe’s winemakers have been perfecting their craft for countless generations. ‘Their terroirs are in the perfect climatological zones and are generally unaffected by the worst effects of climate change,’ she says. ‘And the best of them just taste, and mature, so much better than the best New World wines.’ As she pointed out, you can’t just suddenly throw up your trellises on a distant continent and expect the Old World’s centuries of refinement to spring from your casks. New World wines are over-ripe, fruit-forward, palate-pleasing young pretenders made on an industrial scale.
But isn’t our reverence for Old World wine sheer nostalgia? That’s what Oz Clarke argued. It’s been over 40 years, he reminded us, since the New World’s superiority over France was definitively put to rest. At the ‘Judgment of Paris’ in 1976, British wine expert Steven Spurrier staged a blind wine tasting for France’s greatest wine critics. New World wines won in every category. Proof, Clarke demonstrated, that New World wines possess a vitality that hidebound Old World wines don’t dare open themselves to.
So which world should prevail? The balanced elegance of the Old World? Or the bold verve and experimentalism of the New World?