The impact of climate is one of the factors that makes a grape varietal taste different between regions. Knowledge of a region’s climate gives an indication of the style of wine being made. This can be extremely helpful when navigating a wine list with unfamiliar wines.

 

Stellenbosch, South Africa. Cabernet Sauvignon is the region’s most widely planted grape variety.

What is climate?

Climate refers to the general weather conditions over a long period of time, which includes sunlight and heat. Unlike climate, weather is temporary (the conditions over a few days, weeks or months).

In general, the “Old World” has more cool climates where the “New World” has more warm climates. There are exceptions to this, but you can use it as a general rule of thumb.

The more you know about the climate of a particular region, the more you will understand about the styles of wine produced and why the wine tastes the way it does.

 

Microclimates in Napa Valley, CA

 

Cool climate wines

Grapes ripen slower (and generally don’t fully ripen) in cooler climates. Sunlight will help grapes ripen in cooler temperatures, while rainy conditions (even with sunlight) will dilute the flavors of the grape by increasing the water content and reducing the sugar content. White grapes typically perform better in cooler climates.

Cool climate grapes typically have higher acidity and lower sugar levels. These grapes make wine that is light, dry, crisp, acidic, and lower alcohol content. The aromas and flavors will be brighter and lighter such as citrus, green and red fruits, floral and herbaceous.

For example: Sauvignon Blanc prefers cool climates. Some regions to explore in this style: Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Marlborough.

 

Warm climate wines

Grapes ripen more easily and fuller in warmer conditions. Black grapes typically perform better in warmer climates; however some white grapes can adapt to these conditions like Chardonnay.

Warm climate grapes have lower acidity and higher levels of sugar (due to ripeness). These grapes make wine that is medium to full bodied, low acidity, rich in flavor and higher alcohol content. The aromas and flavors will be riper leaning more to tropical, dried and black fruits, and spice.

For example: Syrah/Shiraz prefers warmer climates. Regions to explore in this style: Southern Rhône and Australia.

 

Comparing a grape variety’s profile across climates

Chardonnay

 

It is the world’s most planted white grape. One of the reasons is because it is easy to grow and adaptable to climates.

Cool climate profile: green fruit, citrus notes and high acidity in “Old World” regions like Chablis and Champagne.

Warm climate profile: stone and tropical fruit in “New World” regions like California.

 

 

 

Cabernet Sauvignon

It is the world’s most planted black grape.

Cool climate profile: savory and herbal characteristics and sharp tannins in “Old World” regions like Bordeaux.

Warm climate profile: rich black fruit like blackberry and black currants, licorice and softer tannins in “New World” regions like California and Australia.

 

To summarize:

Don’t write off a grape variety because you don’t like it from a particular region. Explore the grape varietal from a different climate (or region) and you might be surprised that you like it!

 

Stephanie Roberts, WSET® Certified, is passionate about educating people about wine and all its complexities. She believes that through education comes enlightenment and approachability—elevating the wine and food experience. Stephanie is the founder of Corks & Boards, offering unique and tailored wine experiences, and topic driven tastings/education. Furthermore, she has developed a wine education series that she will launch February 2020. She currently offers wine experiences and education to the Lake Norman community at Brick Row and the Charlotte community at Camp North End.

 

 

 

 

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