[Submitted by Ryan Hill of Hill Family Estate Winery] - When someone tastes a wine made with Cabernet Sauvignon from an old chateau in France, and then tastes a wine made with Cabernet Sauvignon from California, they’ll probably think that one of the producers made an error during some stage of the winemaking process due to how different the wines taste. What that person usually doesn’t think about is the two different styles both regions have when it comes to making wine. France makes wine using an “old world” style which imparts more subtle flavors and qualities. California makes wine in a “new world” style, which imparts bolder flavors and qualities in the wine.
The old world style focuses on the land imparting different characteristics to the wine. This can also be defined as “terroir,” which is the biggest factor in determining where a wine is produced. Terroir refers to anything that influences how a grape grows. Examples may include: land, vegetation, wind, climate, sun exposure, growing season, soil variation and anything else that plays a part in how a grapevine grows. This style leads to wines having an earthy and organic aroma mixed in with small amounts of fruit and oak. The wines are usually low in alcohol and have great acidity. This is due to the fact that France doesn’t have hot weather like California and therefore struggles with growing grapes that have a high level of Brix. However, the French are able to practice chapitalization, which means they are allowed to add sugar to their wines in order to make the flavor and sweetness more intense. The French wines are excellent food pairing wines because of the acidity and balance they offer.
California doesn’t have as much history as the French wines, but this doesn’t mean anything to wine drinkers. The up in your face, high alcohol, mega extracted and concentrated wines are becoming a favorite amongst wine connoisseurs throughout the world today. I like to think of California wines as “rock and roll” and French wines as “R&B.” This is due to the fact that grape growers in California believe the longer the hang time, the better the wine! This philosophy results with grapes having very high sugar levels that make higher alcohol wines. American wine drinkers love the deep aromas and tannins that are derived from extremely concentrated grapes…I guess they love the hangover that comes with these wines as well! California wineries also like to blend different varietals of grapes together to make three dimensional wines that have all different types of aromas and tastes, similar to a firework show on the Fourth of July!
When it comes to my personal preference in selecting a wine, I like both the old and new world style. Since I grew up in the Napa Valley, I obviously know more about California wines. However, when I go to dinner with friends and family they are always surprised when I select a French wine from the list. The reason I do this is because the acidity and subtleties of the old world style compliment rather than take away from what I’m eating. I’ve found that new world wines are usually so intense and over the top, that they’re overbearing on food.
Hopefully in the next couple of years California winemakers will change their style and not focus on who can make a wine that resembles motor oil, but rather an old world style utilizing California grapes that make a wine with balance and harmony!