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New World vs. Old World wine, style vs. substance

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THERE ARE two important Judgments of Paris, both of which changed the world, depending on what you’re reading. First, there’s the Judgment of Paris of Greek mythology, where the lost prince of Troy, Paris, had to choose who the fairest was between goddesses Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena, and the consequences of that launched the Trojan War. Secondly, there’s the Paris Tasting of 1976, a competition by a British wine merchant, where California wines flushed out their French counterparts in a blind tasting by French judges. This competition paved the way for New World wines to be taken more seriously.

BusinessWorld took a walkthrough earlier this month at Discover California Wines, an event featuring 40 wineries and more than 60 labels, organized by the US Department of Agriculture and the California Wine Institute. While walking among the numerous wine labels, and sipping and sniffing about, we asked a stakeholder if the dichotomy between Old World and New World wines still exist.

Over at the Robert Mondavi booth, we tasted the Bourbon Barrel-Aged Cabernet Sauvignon, an innovation from the winery’s Private Selection line. (The wine was so fragrant that this reporter had to let go of the glass for a moment. The scent reminds one of a boudoir from the 1930s, with the scent of blond wood and Guerlain, and after you get used to the first whiff, there’s a bit of a temptation to dab the wine on yourself. It had a rounded taste with little sharpness, a silky mouthfeel, but a well-nuanced flavor with a peppery endnote.)

Eric G. Kahn, Marketing Director for Wines for Future Trade International (which distributes Robert Mondavi in the Philippines), had a few things to say about the dichotomy between Old World and New World wines. For example, one might think that French wines still reign supreme when it comes to price, but he says, “Not necessarily anymore.”

Of course, a lot of what makes wine has taken place well outside the bottle: the sun, the soil, and the climate have all touched the grape well before its juicing. “The soils differ. The plants around differ. They have their own unique taste,” said Mr. Kahn.

“When you say Old World wines, you’re talking more of style. The New World style is more fruit-forward. The Old World style is more subtle.”

Meanwhile, Michael William Reyes, General Manager of The Wine Club, which distributes wines from Vintage Wine Estates in the Philippines, shared the same point. “At the end of the day, it all comes down to the fruit. Fruit grown in California has a different profile than a fruit grown in France,” said Mr. Reyes. “You see a lot more fruit-forwardness.”

Furthermore, Mr. Reyes points out differences in industry practices in New World wines and Old World wines: labels in French wines, for example, would display the region where the wine was made, while labels of New World wines display the varietal that went into the bottle. “A lot of [the difference] is [in] the traditions,” he said.

A changing buying climate, however, is changing the business. Mr. Kahn says, “The thing is now, because of the growing acceptance of wine around the world, all the countries now try to capture each flavor profile of each race, culture, and country. So now, you have French [brands] that make fruit-forward wines, only because they want to capture a certain market.” — Joseph L. Garcia

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