Gardening 101 dictates that the more sun any fruit snags, the riper the fruit will be, but how does a grape’s level of ripeness impact its delicious delivery in the bottle? The riper a grape is, the higher the overall sugar levels will be.
Remember that it is the grape’s innate sugar that is eventually converted to alcohol during the fermentation process. So presumably, riper grapes result in higher alcohol levels in the final bottle of wine.
Warm Climate Wines
When grapes are grown in warmer climate zones, like California, Chile, Spain and much of Italy, they can’t help but reflect the cogent influence of the sun, heat and typically drier growing conditions. These warm weather wines carry higher alcohol levels (typically 14% or above) when fermentation is complete and show more intense color, body and flavor on the palate.
Combine the concentrated flavor compounds with the elevated alcohol levels and both the aromatics and palate nuances are amplified by the alcohol.
Common Warm Weather Flavors
pineapple, mango, banana, papaya
raisin, fig, ripe blackberry and carmelized fruit
Excellent Examples of Warm Weather Wines to Try
Chilean or Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, Argentinean Malbec, Rhone Valley reds, California Zinfandel, Australian Shiraz
Cool Climate Wines
Classic cool climate zones like Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace, Germany, Oregon and areas of Italy cultivate grapes with lower levels of sugar and higher levels of acidity, which result in wines with lower levels of alcohol (typically below 13%).
These cool region wines are essentially the yang to the warm climate wine’s yin. With less sun, lower growing temperatures and often more moisture, expect the wines to carry lighter color profiles, carry a light to medium body, and be noticeably more subtle in terms of flavors, though with more palate acidity.
Common Cool Weather Flavors
pear, apple, subtle citrus
Dramatic Examples of Cool Climate Wines to Try
German Riesling, Alsatian Riesling or Pinot Gris, Burgundy, Champagne, Italy’s Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige
Climate zones help explain why Chardonnay from the cooler region of Burgundy can display subtle aromas, with greener apple, minerality and zippy acidity and how Chardonnay from sunny California often carries intense aromas, riper fruit flavors and more weight on the palate.
When Climate Doesn’t Really Matter in Wine
Modern winemaking practices have certainly increased the quality and consistency of wine across the board. However, many of today’s interventions, tools and mid-fermentation modifications allow winemakers to adjust for sugar, acid and alcohol levels, especially when weather conditions have thrown a vintage some serious curves. Debates abound in terms of how much a winemaking team should intervene and how much to let the vintage, climate and grapes express themselves uninhibited. In general, wines with elevated alcohol levels are likely to see more oak influences and additional aging. Conversely, when a wine shows lower levels of alcohol the wine is more inclined to see carbonation (as in sparkling wines) or to be sweeter on the palate if fermentation has been halted midway, leaving higher residual sugar levels in the wine (as is often the case with German Riesling).