When we talk about a wine, we discuss the fruit, the tannins, the structure, the acidity, its freshness, and balance. Sometimes we venture into discussions about the terroir, noting the minerality of a particular wine. You might chuckle inwardly as you hear someone talking about the climate of wine, thinking there’s no way a person can know what the weather was like just from drinking a glass…or can they?
Believe it or not, the climate of a wine is present in the glass if you know the specific things to look for. It all begins with the color. Let’s take a look at two obvious examples to illustrate the principle. The first is a white wine that is very light in color, almost greenish in hue, and probably grown on young vines in cool temperatures. This would be very distinct from a full-bodied red, dark in color, and heavy in fruit, which is most likely from an established vineyard in a warm climate with lots of sun.
There are some rules of thumb and some easy signs to help you out. Using the simple rule that more alcohol means more sun, we can look at the legs in a glass to help us determine the climate—slower legs can mean more alcohol and that can hint at more sun. Conversely, under-ripe wines can have leafy flavors, tart qualities, and higher acidity that over the ripening process would soften and dissipate in their intensity.
It should be notes that there are just general rules and exceptions abound. Take for example the confounding case of Old World Cabernet vs. New World Cabernet. Depending on where it’s grown, the most prolific varietal on earth can show very different shades of itself. In the cooler microclimates of Bordeaux, more acid comes forward and the tannins are chewier, and more pronounced; while in the warmer temperatures of Napa and western Australian those attributes are softened to be rounder, more integrated, and less acidic. Both styles are delicious in their own right but they make identification that much more difficult.
As we continue to explore the New World, developing new vineyard lands on virgin terroir, we will certainly encounter all new climates to identify without continually evolving palates. The news is good though—you can study vineyard maps, vintage charts, familiarize yourself with the nuances of each varietal, research annual weather patterns, compare Old World wines to New, but if you really want to know what’s in a glass, the answer is simple…taste, taste, and taste some more!