Cool Climate VS Warm Climate Wines

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Shelves upon shelves of bottle labels or leather-bound books of wine lists can get intimidating pretty fast. What’s worse is that wine store employee or waiter who starts spouting off regions or wine varietals you’ve never even heard of, when you simply want help in a language you can understand! Panic: pretty label, a location you know, and a varietal you're familiar with.

Well if you're down to explore, I got you. I hope my wine musings can help break things down for you; sip-size bits of information that you can toss out to get you the wine you want, decoded. So let’s start with a concept you may have heard of in the wine world: cool climate vs. warm climate wines. Ok, so…wines that are grown in cool or warm places. Got it. Wait…what does that actually mean for my wine and how does that help me?

Think of a strawberry. Imagine a big, plump, juicy strawberry- perfectly ripe, red, and sweet, dribbling down your chin as you take a bite. It ripened in a warm spot where the sun shines most of the day. Now picture an underripe strawberry: yellowish-green on the bottom, firm, not much juice, and the tart flavor makes your mouth pucker a bit. This strawberry probably grew in a cooler place, with more shade or at least shorter access to sun. That, my friends, is warm climate vs cool climate. Most fruit grows and ripens quickly in sunny, warm weather…and we know ripe means squishy, plump fruit full of sweet juice (natural sugar). A cooler climate, however, with cloud cover, mist, rain, or maybe a marine layer from a nearby body of water, results in fruit that does not ripen nearly as quickly or as much. Hence, it has less sweetness, higher acidity, which gives you that tart flavor. 

The same goes for grapes, which of course, become wine. Now, these are generalizations, and there are always exceptions to the rules depending on microclimates within a region, a specific vintage, and when the winemaker decides to harvest their grapes. That said, warmer climate wines tend to have a juicier, rich, rounder, sometimes sweeter quality, due to the more ripe grapes. Also, because there is more natural sugar in these ripe grapes, fermentation has more sugar to work through, which means typically higher alcohol content in warm climate wines. Cooler climate wines retain more of the fruit's natural acidity, so expect lighter, brighter fruit, maybe some herbal and mineral notes, and that tart finish, just like the underripe strawberry. If you have a California Pinot Noir side by side with an Oregon Pinot Noir, you'll notice these differences. So that's your homework. Test out this theory and see what suits you, then tell your server or wine store employee that you typically like a warmer or cooler climate wine. I know, tough life, but I want a full report...cheers to finding your perfect match!

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Laura Brown is an actress-turned Sign Language Interpreter and Scout & Cellar Wine Consultant. When not geeking out over some vino, Laura is running around town as a Sign Language Interpreter. American Sign Language (ASL) is a true passion, and Laura hopes to increase awareness and accessibility anywhere she can. She also loves to cook, travel, spend quality time with her rescue pup, and connect with friends, old and new!