Climate is a vital variable in vino.
Grapes in cool climates don’t ripen as quickly, resulting in lower sugar content, thus lower alcohol and higher acidity. Wine descriptors: fresh, clean, crisp. Taste descriptors: cranberry, raspberry, sour cherry, green apple. Notable varieties: pinot noir, gamay, cabernet franc, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, riesling, müller-thurgua.
Grapes in warm climates ripen more quickly, resulting in higher sugar content, thus higher alcohol and less acidity. They often have thicker skins, thus greater tannin. Wine descriptors: bold, full-bodied, powerful. Taste descriptors: ripe, juicy, fruit-forward. Notable varieties: zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese, syrah, nebbiolo, tempranillo.
Certain grapes—malbec, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and chenin blanc, are examples—are grown in both cool and warm climates, but are markedly different depending on the climate.
In general, grapes in cooler climates struggle for ripeness and full expression of the fruit, and are lower in alcohol, good in acidity. When things are right, they pair well with lighter foods—fish and seafood, lighter meats, salads, and as aperitifs.
In general, grapes grown in warmer climates have little trouble achieving ripeness, but they struggle with being too ripe and thus too much alcohol and too little acidity. When things are right, they pair well with heavier foods—rich red meats, tomato-based pasta dishes and pizza, lamb, wild game.
Of course it is not nearly as simple as the above makes it seem. Elevations in the same area influence climate. Vines grown on the high slopes of a mountain will have more cool-climate characteristics than those same vines grown on the warm-climate valley floor below. A single location could have both cool and warm climate conditions.
Many grape varieties can succeed in both climates, particularly on the margins of climate designations. And, then, climate is climate. There are years when cool climate regions have a warm year, and years when warm climate regions have a cool year. Such is the infinite complexity of wine.
• Ferraton Père & Fils Côtes du Rhône Samorëns Rosé 2017: Classic grenache-based rosé using classic Rhône grapes from quality maker. $11-15 Link to review
• Sterling Vineyards Vintner’s Collection Rosé 2016: Perfect summer day sipper. $13 Link to review
• Lucas & Lewellen Estate Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2017: Tangy, food-friendly, plenty of grapefruit and lime. $17-19 Link to review
Last round: When I was younger, happy hour started with wine at 5:01 p.m. Now, happy hour is a glass of wine and a nap after lunch.