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Worlds apart

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Globalization has been great for oenophiles

What exactly is all the fuss about New and Old World wines?

Basically, the traditional European heavyweights — France, Italy, Spain and Germany — form the Old World, the cozy existence of which began to be threatened with the arrival of more-than-decent wines on European shores from far-flung places like California, Australia and South Africa in the late 1970s. At first, these were viewed as a curiosity, much the way Japanese cars were around the same time.

Soon, though, they were making a mark, at least in those countries not featherbedded by protectionism and patriotic drinkers. These were mainly the nonproducing countries of northern Europe, where consumers gladly opened up to swanky impostors in what had always been a rather stuffy wine scene.

Chilean vineyards
Chilean vineyards like this one in the Colchagua Valley are producing tasty wines.

Then came the next wave: Chile and New Zealand, not to mention European countries not considered Old World because of their long-earned reputation for simply awful wines, fit only for consumption locally — places like Cyprus and Bulgaria, where they were already tearing out unsung native grape varieties to make room for market favorites like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

What constitutes New World wines? Generally, they’re perceived as having bags of ripe fruit and oaky overtones, are usually consumed when young, and are often recognizable by their up-front aromas and fruity palates, typical of the grape variety on the bottle rather than the place of production.

Old World styles can be summed up as being influenced by their place of birth combined with that magical interplay of soil, weather and varietal character that the French call terroir. These wines are frequently minerally and subtly floral in character, while the label seldom mentions the species. A Burgundian would claim to be making Burgundy and never Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, the two grapes used locally. An Aussie would never presume to be making a Barossa, but a Shiraz from that region.

Thanks to technological innovation, more and more countries can now produce wine. In tropical Brazil and Indonesia, grapes can be harvested twice a year. Brazilian wines are already of high quality. India and China are hellbent on joining the lucrative wine-producing club. With global warming, even Poland and Sweden are on the trail.

And what is the Old World doing to combat this threat? New laws are being spawned, restrictions are being eased, the trend is growing to name wines after their grape variety, and so on. And quality everywhere is definitely improving, even if many of the New World wines are accused of tasting much the same. After a long fling with the obvious virtues of the new, many people are returning to their Old World favorites, with all their charm and vices. In the end, we all win. The choices out there have never been so great.

Winery of the Month: Family Springer

No, this isn’t déja vu. It’s the other half of the redoubtable Springer family. Pavel, the younger brother of Jaroslav (who was featured last month), has run the 5-hectare (12-acre) Vinařství Springer along with his father since the family divided its business activities into two entities in 2004. Based in the Moravian wine village of Bořetice, in the Velké Pavlovice region, the winery has roots going back to 1807. A brand-new architect-designed facility is under construction up the hill in nearby Vrbice, home to the flagship vineyard Skale.

Quality is the watchword — only 15,000 bottles are produced annually, mainly reds. Based on the principle that wine is made in the vineyard, attention is paid to biodynamic principles, relying on natural preparations in place of artificial treatments and chemical fertilizers. Green-harvesting — that is, cutting out as much as half of the bunches on the vine to increase concentration — is rigorously undertaken.

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