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Warm vs. Cool-Climate Wine

Question from Melanie: I’ve noticed that you and some other wine writers talk about cool climate and warm climate wine. I don’t really understand what you mean. 

Reply: Hi, Melanie. Thanks for writing! 

Climate has a huge impact on your enjoyment. You might find you prefer cool-climate examples of some varieties and warm-climate examples of others. It’s all pretty logical once you think about it. Whether you garden or don’t, you select your produce according to ripeness, right? Tomatoes make a good example.

Cool, climate, warm climate: If you like to garden, you know how seasonal temperatures affect the ripening pattern of your fruit and vegetables. Imagine trying to ripen tomatoes on your patio if you live San Francisco, where it’s foggy daily in the summertime, and temperatures rarely rise above 65F. Unless you’re really lucky, those are going to be some tart, green tomatoes that don’t have much flavor, right?  They start out with high levels of acid, low levels of sugar and vegetative flavors. As the weeks go by the sweetness increases and the tomatoey flavor develops, providing they get enough heat and sun. So, depending upon where they’re grown they’ll ripen slowly or quickly. In a cool-climate situation there’s a risk that they never get really ripe – they’re on the tart side. In a warm climate situation there’s little difficulty getting them nice and sweet and you need to pick them before they start to get mooshy and over ripe.  

The same thing applies to grapes. When they form on the vine, actually now’s about the right time for this, they’re tiny, hard and extremely sour. As the summer goes on they’ll get bigger, softer and the tartness will decrease as the sugar goes up. Flavor characteristics also evolve, accordingly, from vegetal/herbaceous/earthy to fruity, ripe and even tropical or dried-fruit flavors.  Continue reading

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