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Old World vs New World: The Great Wine Debate

Which world should prevail? The balanced elegance of the Old World? Or the bold verve and experimentalism of the New World?

Video coming soon.

With wine provided by

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?


Advocating for Old World wine

Jancis Robinson

Award-winning wine writer

Voted the world's most influential wine critic in polls in the US, France and internationally in 2018, Robinson writes daily for JancisRobinson.com, weekly for the Financial Times, and bi-monthly for a column that is syndicated around the world. She is editor of The Oxford Companion to Wine and co-author with Hugh Johnson of The World Atlas of Wine, whose 8th edition has just been published. She has also written The 24-Hour Wine Expert, a short, practical guide to the essentials of wine. In 1984 she was the first person outside the wine trade to pass the rigorous Master of Wine exams and in 2003 she was awarded an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen, on whose cellar she now advises.
Advocating for New World wine

Oz Clarke

Leading wine expert

One of the world’s leading wine experts, acknowledged as having one of the finest palates of anyone writing about wine today. He is currently the drinks presenter for James Martin’s Saturday Morning on ITV, and presented the iconic BBC series Food and Drink between 1982 and 2002. He has also presented television series on wine and drink with James May and Hugh Dennis. Clarke’s many bestselling books include the annual guides Pocket Wine Book and 250 Best Wines Wine Buying Guide. His most recent books are Oz Clarke’s World of Wine and his autobiography Red & White: An Unquenchable Thirst For Wine.

Amelia Singer

TV presenter and contributor on The Wine Show and former wine writer for Waitrose Food magazine

Television presenter and contributor on The Wine Show. She was previously a wine writer for Waitrose Food Magazine, is UK ambassador for the California Wine Institute and founder of Amelia’s Wine, an event business which offers a range of authentic, fun, helpful and ultimately accessible wine tastings.