Wines made in a traditional (European) style are to be enjoyed at the table with food and used to refresh the palate like fruit. They are made from grapes that are picked when the flavor of the fruit, its sugar ripeness and acidity are in balance. Fermentation occurs with minimal or no additives or technological intervention. These wines generally reflect the particularities of their vineyards (the terroir, that sense of place) and the inherent quality of the vintage. They can produce wines of variety and individuality even when made from the same grape. A good example would be if you made Pinot noir with the same approach in the Willamette Valley, Oregon and in Burgundy, France (the traditional home of the Pinot Noir.) The wines will taste similar but not the same because each will reflect the differences and subtleties of the growing conditions of the two regions and their respective vineyards. They generally have moderate levels of alcohol (less than 13.5%), high acidity, light fruit flavors, minerality and little if any new oak or high fruit extraction.
Modern (also known as “New World” or “International”) styled wines usually emphasize raw power and are luscious with fruit driven richness. Fully ripened grapes are used to produce wines that are big and full flavored (jammy), of higher alcohol and with pronounced oak flavors. Any region with abundant sunlight and a reasonably long growing season with warm temperatures can produce these wines diminishing the importance of any particular vineyard. These wines are generally of good quality and are consistent from vintage to vintage because of the sophisticated technology used to make them. However, most lack the variety and subtle flavors of traditionally made wine and are prone to tasting very similar and come across as one dimensional. These are more appropriate as stand-alone cocktail wines because they overwhelm most other flavors and do not pair well with food.
I believe that traditionally wines typically have more finesse, balance and elegance than raw power, which is typical of modern wines. They generally have the proper flavor, balance and acidity to be enjoyed with food and as a rule they do not have lots of new oak, high alcohol and high fruit extraction that you see in modern wines. This does not mean all traditional wines are excellent and that there are no modern wines that are distinctive and food worthy, I’ve just I’ve enjoyed a lot more of the former than the latter.