The essential Old World wine guide for beverage importers
Today, a staggering range of wines are traded to and from every inhabited continent on Earth. Thanks to transport options like sea freight and air freight, the wine business is truly global.
However, as a beverage importer, it's vital to have a solid understanding of Old World wines in particular. Produced in regions that have been perfecting the art and science of winemaking since ancient times, Old World wines have a rich history of quality and tradition.
Whether you're a seasoned professional or a novice in the industry, read on to discover essential information, valuable insights, and tips that will help you succeed in the world of Old World wine imports.
Geography is a factor when it comes to working out if wine is Old World or New World.
When Europeans started exploring and colonizing the Americas in the 15th Century, they called the region the “New World”, making Europe and nearby lands the “Old World”. That’s why we now use the Old World to describe wine made in the regions of Europe and the Near East.
Meanwhile, the Europeans who colonized the Americas took their grapes and wine-making traditions with them from the Old World and produced the first New World Wine. Today, we also consider wine made in Africa, Asia, and Oceania with modern methods, New World wine.
It’s safe to say when you hear the phrase Old World wine, you probably think of places like France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, and Portugal. But in fact, this includes the Caucasus (modern-day Georgia and Armenia), Israel, Syria, and even parts of North Africa.
Recent archaeological research has found evidence of winemaking all the way back in the New Stone Age around 9,000 to 8,0000 years ago. The region boasts the oldest known winery in the world, which dates from 6,100 years ago. Discovered in 2007 in a cave in Armenia, it was fairly sophisticated with vats, a press, and clay storage jars.
However, it was perhaps with the ancient Greeks and Romans that the history of Old World wine as it is known today really got started.
The Greeks introduced their viticulture and winemaking traditions to colonies all around the Mediterranean., Later, the Romans made advances in areas such as grape cultivation, vineyard management, and winemaking processes and spread their know-how to the far corners of their vast empire, including to Spain, Portugal and France.
It's worth noting that winemaking also developed independently in other parts of the world. In China, for example, archaeological evidence suggests that winemaking was practised around 9,000 years ago. Although, China is classed as New World wine.
The Old World wine countries have a variety of soils and climates, so over the centuries winemakers in each region have developed their own unique winemaking techniques, and cultivated grape varieties that are ideally suited to the local climate and soil conditions. This is linked to the French concept of terroir.
Terroir is more than the soil is related to the unique environmental factors that affect a wine's taste, and is highly valued, with environmental factors such as temperature, humidity or soil composition or orientation that create a unique character for the grapes and, thus the wines.
Centuries of competition between regions and, later, the emergence of New World wine has led to the introduction of many rules and laws to regulate Old World wine production.
Old World wine is linked to the concept of "Appellation of Origin": a geographical location where grapes are grown and wines crafted. The concept recognizes that the unique characteristics of such a region, have a significant impact on the quality and character of the wine produced.
Appellations are legally protected and regulated by the governing body overseeing the appellation. These regulations go beyond the wine region to include restrictions on grape varieties, minimum or maximum alcohol content, vineyard management practices, winemaking techniques, and labeling requirements.
Appellations are valuable for both producers and consumers. They allow producers to distinguish their wines based on their origin and unique qualities, while consumers can make more informed decisions when purchasing wine, knowing that wines with a specific appellation meet certain standards and are representative of a particular terroir or winemaking tradition.
Barolo, for example, is linked to Italy. This popular Italian wine is known for its powerful tannins, high freshness and complex flavors. It's named after the village of Barolo, in the Piedmont region in northwest Italy and it's made primarily from the Nebbiolo grape variety.
New World wine comes from countries like the United States, Canada, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, that have a relatively short history of their own when it comes to winemaking.
With so much land open to them, New World winemakers were able to choose locations with the most favorable climates and soil to set up their vineyards. This has allowed winemakers in the New World to be more flexible and creative in their winemaking approaches, resulting in a greater diversity of wine styles.
Today, the New World wine regions have established their own identities and gained recognition for their quality wines. They have become significant contributors to the global wine market, offering a wide range of varietals, styles, and expressions that showcase the diversity and potential of wine production beyond Europe.
Differences in the traditions of Old and New world wineries can make it a bit of a struggle to compare labels on wine bottles.
Because Old World wines are deeply rooted in terroir, wine labels focus on the region of origin. So they highlight the Appellation of origin or even the vineyard, village or producer where the wine was crafted.
They also might include other classifications regulated by each Appellation which means that the wine meets specific quality standards and production regulations, Gran Reserva is an example of that.
To understand an old world wine label you need some knowledge about the wine region and the grapes used there. This influences the information provided on the labels of bottles.
For example, if you see a red wine with the appellation Cahors on the label, this means it was crafted in the Cahors wine region of South West France using Malbec, a local grape variety. As a result, you can expect to enjoy a robust, tannic and full-bodied wine that combines black fruits with earthy and spice notes. The whole description can be understood by the word “Cahors”.
On the other hand, as New World winemaking focuses on the varietal, this is often the main information displayed in the label. So you know you'll taste a Malbec but not necessarily know from which region in the country.
It's important to note that the wine world is constantly evolving and crafts wines that go beyond just the grape variety. In this type of wine Stellenbosh, Oregon, Maipo Valley or Barossa Valley among hundreds of others, can be displayed on the label.
Old World wine still dominates the industry. Out of the 85 wine producing countries, Spain, France and Italy alone, make up more than half of global production.
Spain, has the largest vineyard surface area in the world, with 955 kha (kilohectares) dedicated to growing grapes in 2022.
On the other hand, France, the second-largest grape grower, with a vineyard surface area of 812 kha in 2022.
Italy’s national vineyard area was recorded as 718 kha in 2022.
Total Vineyard area of major vine-growing Old World wine countries
Sources: OIV, GTA
In 2022, the Old World wine-making countries of the EU produced 161.1 mhl (million hectoliters) compared to 165 mhl in 2012.
While the continent experienced some extreme weather throughout the 2022 growing season, Italy, Spain, and France, still made up 51% of world production in 2022.
Every Old World country produced an equal or increased amount of wine in 2022 compared to a decade ago.
Production of Old World wines in mhl
Sources: OIV, GTA
France is the largest consumer of any Old World wine country and second in the world after the US. French people consumed an estimated 25.3 mhl of wine in 2022, the second year of growth following a fall during the pandemic.
While Italy is still the second-largest consumer in Europe and third in the world, the 23.0 mhl consumed by Italians in 2022 is 5% less than in 2021.
Europe’s third-largest consumer, and fourth globally, is Germany, which saw a consumption volume of 19.4 mhl in 2022, 3% less than in 2021.
Despite its status as a top three Old World wine producer, consumption in Spain was a much more modest 10.3 mhl in 2022, a level that hasn’t changed much over recent years.
When looking at the consumption per person, according to the same report Portugal leads the ranking with 67.5 liters per year per person, followed by France with 47.4, and Italy with 44.4. The consumption per capita is much less in the New World countries with 12.6 liters in the US, 23.8 in Argentina, and 26.1 in Australia.
2022 % world
Sources: OIV, GTA
When thinking about moving wine around Europe, many people assume road freight is the only option. However, Old World Europe now boasts an extensive train network and it’s worth noting that rail freight is one of the most energy-efficient transport modes.
While road freight is usually faster than rail, it is often more expensive. By factoring in a little more lead time you could see huge benefits to the bottom line of your business with rail.
With fewer carbon emissions per ton per mile compared to road freight, trains can carry a large volume of wine over long distances. This makes moving your Old World wine by rail across Europe the cheaper and greener choice.
Of course, thanks to modern transportation solutions from freight forwarders such as Hillebrand Gori, you can also choose from a range of air freight, road freight and sea freight routes to market (RTM).
Whether you’re shipping within Europe, to the New World, or anywhere else, Old World wines can be easily and safely moved around the globe, in whatever volume needed.
To transport a pallet or two, you can reduce freight costs by opting for a Less than Container Load (LCL) shipment. With our LCL groupage service, your Old World wine will only be packed with other beverages, to ensure it isn’t damaged or contaminated by other goods.
For larger volumes, our Full Container Load (FCL) option gives you an entire container dedicated only to your wine. Our insulated containers protect your wine from thermal shock, bad smells, cross contamination, humidity, and condensation. If you also want to-the-degree temperature control, you can use our refrigerated containers. FCL means your order reaches its destination quickly and with as little handling as possible.
You can also move wine long distances in bulk using our flexitanks and bottle it at destination. Hillebrand Gori’s 100% recyclable flexitanks use a specially-designed protective barrier, that safeguards your wine from the risks of oxygen ingress and taint compounds.
Talk to us today if you want to discuss how to ensure your Old World or New World wine reaches your customers with every drop of quality and tradition perfectly preserved.