The Heritage and Evolution of the Wine in Your Favorite Bottle

Grapevine“It’s like putting new wine in old bottles.”

I recently heard this time-worn phrase as a politically charged comment on proposed federal legislation. I began thinking of this in the context of wine.

The wine industry has evolved more in the past decade than perhaps in the previous century. The introduction of new technology and new techniques has raised the overall quality, quantity and diversity of wines available to consumers.

The profile of many of today’s wines is dramatically different from the mass-produced, mass-marketed wines of yesteryear. Has there been a sea change in winemakers’ approaches to making wine? Or more appropriately, is it possible to discover or create anything new in an industry that has been plying its craft for at least 6,000 years?

Have the shifting sensibilities of winemakers evolved to the point where they are now putting new wine in new bottles? Has science – in the form of DNA testing, sophisticated soil analysis and innovative electronic equipment – substantially changed the inherent characteristics of grape varieties and supplanted the traditional means of making wine?

And at the risk of running afoul of logic, let me stretch my metaphor once again. Have the noted advances achieved in winemaking over the past decade in fact created throwback wines? Are old wines being put in new bottles?

Allow me to dwell on this last premise.

For all of the recent advancements evident in wines being introduced in the market each week – under the influence of scientists, winemakers, marketers and consumers – it seems to me that, in a number of cases, what I am drinking today did not exist in the 1900s. Yet many of these wines bear a resemblance to those produced by our forefathers for centuries. Consider these points:

  1. New farming techniques are proliferating. As chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides were being introduced in the 1950s, many American and European producers embraced them wholeheartedly, abandoning the organic practices of past millennia.

Fast forward to the 21st century. There is a growing movement to a “new,” symbiotic relationship with nature. Each year the use of chemical products in vineyards declines. Centuries-old terms such as organic and biodynamic are in vogue. In fact, many of today’s farming practices are strangely similar to those employed by the Roman Empire as it planted grapevines across its vast holdings around the Mediterranean Sea.

  1. Winemakers in California and Oregon are producing new Pinot Noir wines that have never existed before. At last count there are now more than 200 clones of Pinot Noir vines being planted – and their grapes blended – in some fashion.

However, many of the centuries-old mother rootstock of these plants emanated from the Burgundy region of France where they still flourish today. New Pinot Noir wines are being evaluated on their French heritage and the subtle variations from their baseline ancestors.

Similarly, in Italy, Super Tuscans are heralded as new wines. What makes them unique are grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, grapes not indigenous to Tuscany. Yet these new wines have been produced in Bordeaux for centuries.

Old wine in new bottles. It sounds counterintuitive, but the rich history and traditions of winemaking are clearly evident in the exciting and vibrant new wines in today’s marketplace. Don’t be fooled by their disguises.

Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.