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Climate and Flavor I

Written by Tynan Szvetecz
Filed Under: Wine Growing

For many of us, whether we are just starting to explore the wonderful depths, twists and turns to be found in tasting a glass of wine, or if we have been doing it all our lives, the idea of being able to identify a wine's grape, country and vineyard solely based on a look, sniff and taste seems nothing short of miraculous.

But such skills are remarkably attainable! Once you are able to be a good observer of a wine's basic character, which is nothing more than weighing its body and acidity, you can identify what part of the world it was grown in. By making a few other key observations, you can identify its country, and before long you will know the region, if not the vineyard.

How can something so seemingly complicated be so simple? The answer lies in the understanding of climate.

This discussion will give an overview of the following concepts:

  • Cool Climate Wines often have a crisp and tangy acidity and a lighter body
  • Warm Climate Wines often have a softer, smoother acidity and a full body with more ripe and luscious fruit tastes
  • Three climate zones... White wines and red wines each have specific flavors and scents as determined by three basic climate zones: cool climate zone, moderate climate zone and warm climate zone

Things to Keep in Mind:

While many of the ideas explored in this discussion are exciting and will likely open new worlds of understanding and enjoyment for you, it's important to remember that Vintage, or the year the wine was made, can in moderation dull some of these generalities or in extremes make their opposites true.

For example, this discussion will allow you to make the observation that a California Syrah grown in the hot central valley will be full bodied with soft acidity and carrying ripe and luscious fruit flavors. But, a vintage from a cool year in the central valley might taste like it was a more subtle Cote du Rhone from cooler France (made from Grenache and Syrah grapes).

Similarly, a warm year will impart more intense, ripe and tropical fruit characteristics to wines that are normally on the crisp and tangy side. Causing a French Burgundy (made from the Chardonnay grape), to perhaps taste like a more luscious Australian or Californian Chardonnay.

Micro-climate also plays a part. There are, of course, pockets of cooler areas within a typically warm region, just as there are pockets of warmer areas within typically cool geographies. A great example is Germany, where the fine Riesling grape would likely freeze given the quite cool climate, but because of pockets of warmth created by the sun reflecting off of local rivers onto the hillside, it's possible for the grape to grow.

The important thing to remember is that even though a wine may be Australian, known for its rather warm climate, there are vineyards that are located at an altitude that can yield wines that taste like they were from a cooler country or region.

Bodies of Water are also a factor, and one that is usually discussed on the bottle. See the article in Wine Growing for a more thorough overview of how rivers, lakes and oceans affect a wine's flavor and style.

Introduction to Climate and Flavor

Put simply: climate determines a wine's flavor and style.

Using the above chart is remarkably easy. Take two Chardonnays for example. After a taste, you note that Chardonnay A has more acidity and perhaps a refreshing apple-like flavor. Chardonnay B, on the other hand, is full bodied and luscious, perhaps with a hint of more tropical fruit.

Using the above chart, we can note that Chardonnay A is most likely from a cooler climate (we've determined it has a crisp acidity and a 'green fruit' taste). Chardonnay B, in contrast, is full, ripe and luscious, suggesting a warm climate.

Applying the lessons from our wine growing discussions, which tells us that, in general, bolder wines are grown in the new world and more subtle, earthy wines are grown in the old world, we can assume that Chardonnay A, with its more subtle, crisp apple flavor is of the old world, and Chardonnay B, with its bold, luscious and full personality has its origin somewhere in the new world (Australia, California, South America).

Having noted that Chardonnay A is most likely an old world wine and from a cooler climate, there's a good bet, then, that Chardonnay A is a French Burgundy. We could then offer that Chardonnay B is Australian or Californian based on its ripe, bold flavor.

With a few simple observations on the two wines, we've narrowed the playing field from a hundred or so possible growing areas to one or two for each wine!