Defining “Cool Climate” Wines

Everything in the wine world seems better evaluated in the context of its impact on taste: terroir, winemaking technique, storage, etc. Ultimately, all processes have the potential to impact taste and should be considered in both qualitative and quantitative terms regarding their impact on flavors and aromas in the final product.

So what is “cool climate” and why is it important to wine? “Cool Climate” wine can be defined as any wine made from a warm climate wine grape varietal grown in a region where the temps are in the lower range of the vines’ tolerance. The challenge for growers is there must also be sufficient sunlight to ripen the grapes. So, the quality of the fruit tends to be higher in areas where the growing season has enough sunlight to ripen the grapes and enhance the development of phenols, but cool to cold nights to raise the acidity. These wines tend to have structure, be more balanced, have less alcohol, include more complexity, have higher acidity and generally be more interesting. If big, fruity, alcoholic wines like many Napa Cabs are your faves, this category of wine may not be on top of your list…

I think most everyone would agree, white wines are just not interesting enough, unless grown in cool climate regions, but red wines are an entirely different matter. Many warm climate red regions produce excellent reds, i.e. Southern France, Spain and Italy. I have tasted cool climate produced syrahs, tempranillos, cabernet sauvs and cabernet francs. In my opinion, cabernet becomes too vegetal when grown in climates that push the cooler temp angle too much. Whereas syrah in particular, benefits greatly from this approach. My favorite red wine is syrah made from fruit grown in cool climate vineyards. Try searching them out and tasting them side-by-side with warm climate production… you will taste the difference. If you enjoy complex, structured wines, these wines will be for you!

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