Understanding how climate influences wine is a great way to know what’s in the bottle you choose and how to make your selection process a simple one. Discover how climate impacts the overall flavor and quality of wine in our blog.
How Climate Impacts the Flavor and Quality of Wine
All fruit - strawberries, bananas, mangos, and grapes start out high in acid and low in sugar. We’ve all had the experience of biting into a piece of fruit only to realize it’s not sweet enough - it’s not ripe yet. When we eat fruit we want those sugars, we want that ripeness and with wine grapes the process is similar.
Warmer Temperatures and Wine
As a fruit ripens, sugars increase and acids decrease. Ripening takes place by adequate exposure to sunshine and warmth and so it’s no surprise that warmer regions produce fruit that is riper than colder regions. When thinking about wine it’s easy to see how that can have an impact on the flavor of the finished product.
Alcohol is made via sugar, the yeast eats the sugar and converts it into alcohol. And so the more sugars present in the fruit, the more opportunity for the yeasts to do their job. Alcohol can also have an impact on a wine’s body, weight, and power on the palate. Here's an easy way to break it down:
- Warmer temperatures = riper fruit.
- Riper fruit = more sugar.
- More sugar = more alcohol, more body, and more power.
But what about acid?
The acid in wine is essential. A wine without acid tastes too sweet and too rich. And a wine without sugar tastes just the opposite - too tart, with too much acid. So to use our logic again, here's how cooler temperatures impact wine.
Cooler Temperatures and Wine
- Cooler temperatures = less sugar/more acid.
- Less sugar = lower alcohol, lighter body, less power.
In short, cooler climates typically produce wines that are light and delicate with lower alcohol, while warmer climates typically produce wines that are robust and powerful with higher alcohol.
How Grapes Are Influenced By Climate
Just like pineapples prefer Hawaii and apples prefer England, wine grapes also have their desired homes or their preferred climate.
Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, loves some heat. In fact, Cabernet Sauvignon needs some heat to become its best self. And so we see it planted in warmer regions like Napa Valley, Stellenbosch, Margaret River and Bordeaux where warmer temperatures can ripen the fruit appropriately.
Pinot Noir is quite the opposite. It needs cooler temperatures to perform best. And so we see Pinot planted in regions like Burgundy, Austria, Sonoma Coast and the Yarra Valley, to name a few.
But what about all of those other grapes and regions you’ve never heard of? We can use climate to help us get a good idea of what’s in the bottle, without necessarily knowing much of anything on the label.
Simply realizing that Austria, for example, is generally cooler than Sicily, and that Portugal is generally warmer than Germany can help us get an idea of what’s in the bottle.
Regional Variations: How Different Regions Are Impacted by Climate Factors
Getting down to the finer details, climate can be impacted on a micro level. Elevation, proximity to a body of water, wind, and other factors can have an impact on what’s in the bottle.
Using our example of Cabernet Sauvignon let’s look at the Napa Valley in California, home to some of the best Cabernet in the world.
This is a region that is densely planted throughout the valley floor and up in higher elevations like Mt. Veeder. The fruit from these two sources can produce two completely different types of wine, despite both being Cabernet Sauvignon, and both coming from the Napa Valley.
The higher temperatures of the valley floor will allow the fruit to ripen quickly and to maximum levels, producing a bigger, bolder version of Cabernet Sauvignon, whereas the elevation of Mt. Veeder in the Mayacamas Mountains play a crucial role in slowing down the ripening process, allowing the fruit to retain plenty of acid. These two wines will be different and it is up to the consumer to decide their preferred style.
Wine Regions to Check Out if You Like Big and Bold Wine
If you prefer a bigger, bolder style of wine, here are just a few places to look:
- Margaret River, Australia
- Barossa Valley, Australia
- Douro Valley, Portugal
- Napa Valley, California
- Stellenbosch, South Africa
- Ribera del Duero, Spain
- Priorat, Spain
- Southern Rhone, France
Wine Regions to Check Out if You Like Light and Delicate Wine
If you prefer a light, delicate style of wine, here are just a few places to take a look:
- Rias Baixas, Spain
- Vinho Verde, Portugal
- Loire Valley, France
- Savoie, France
- Alsace, France
- Thermenregion, Austria
- Hemel-En-Aarde, South Africa
- Yarra Valley, Australia
- Adelaide Hills, Australia
To learn more about climate and its influences on wine, join our wine club where we explore a different region each month!