Cool vs. Warm climate wines: differences to look out for
Cool and warm climate wines can be dramatically different
The climate is key in wine production and certainly provides challenges here in the UK. Although Stanlake Park’s winemaker and vineyard manager, Nico, has worked in many overseas locations, this is a challenge he relishes.
Wine regions can be grouped into the two major climate types – warm climate and cool climate, reflecting the wide range of climates grapes can grow in. It also results in different tasting wines. When the first vines were planted at Stanlake Park in 1979, a variety of cold climate vines were chosen, many of German origin.
This can be a very complex and long topic, which it’s hard to simplify it in one blog; our aim is to give you a simple explanation on why wines from cool and warm viticulture regions taste different. If you join one of our educational Wine Tours, you have the chance to ask me – or any of my fellow tour guides – more about this extremely interesting and complex subject! In the meantime: –
Warm climate regions
- tend to have more consistent temperatures throughout the season;
- the slow temperature fall from summer into autumn allows grapes to become riper but the downside is that more of the natural grape acidity is lost;
- ‘riper’ creates generally fruitier, higher sugar content and makes higher alcohol wines.
Cool climate regions
- tend to get just as hot as warm climates in the peak of summer;
- however, temperatures fall more quickly as grape picking season approaches – it’s this that makes cool climate wines taste different;
- lower temperatures preserve natural acidity but make it challenging for grapes to ripen;
- cool climate wine regions tend to produce zesty crisp fruit flavours and have more natural acidity.
Climates within climates
It is also possible to have ‘micro-climates’ within a larger climate type. In fact it can be argued every vineyard has its own micro-micro-climate of sorts. Other factors can include the amount of rainfall, humidity, and cooling or warming forces like cloud cover and wind patterns.
Whilst there are signs in every wine that hint at the weather that the grapes experienced during the growing season, it is also about when grapes are picked. Grapes that are picked when: –
- less ripe tend to make wines taste more acidic and crisper, particularly on the finish. If you like zesty fruit flavours, then you’ll want to look for these wines which are often described as ‘elegant’ or ‘refreshing’;
- more ripe tend to make wines taste sweeter. If you love wine with a rich, fruity, almost sweet tasting finish, a key indicator is to look for words like ‘ripe’ or ‘sweet tannins’.
Different vineyards pick their grapes at different times. If picked earlier, it’s mainly because the winemaker is trying to balance getting the grape as sweet as possible without losing all the natural acidity. In Puglia, the Stanlake Park Italian Collection wines are picked early in the morning to retain freshness, typically in September.
Grape varieties suit different climates
Many grapes such as Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Merlot simply produce wildly different wines depending on where they are grown. However, not all grapes thrive in all climates. Some are better suited to cooler zones, while others prefer heat and sun. The grapes most adept to cooler regions include Riesling, Pinot Grigio for whites, and Pinot Noir and Dornfelder for reds. Zinfandel, Grenache and Shiraz are great in warmer climates.
Growers in cooler climates do face distinct challenges. Vines may be lower yielding; winters can harm or kill the vines and frost events are more common and destructive. For instance, a late heavy frost in May 2020 depleted our yield at Stanlake by 30%.
The following table offers general guidance on the impact of climate on the wines made from grapes grown there. However, you should be aware that different grape varieties also produce different flavours.
|White wine flavours
|Red wine flavours
|Red berry, Cherry
|Dark berry, Plum
If you were tasting the Negroamaro from the Stanlake Park Italian Series, you would get very ripe mature fruit notes (possibly even jammy) telling you it’s from a warm climate. If it tastes tart or delicate like a freshly picked raspberry, the wine probably comes from a cooler climate.
Grapes from cooler regions typically don’t ripen as quickly, which results in lower natural sugars and higher acidity. These wines may be described as elegant, nuanced and fresh. Tart fruits flavours like cranberry, raspberry, sour cherry and green apple are common, as are herbaceous notes, black pepper spice (especially in Syrah) and earthy, “forest floor” notes like those found in Pinot Noir from Burgundy.
Cool and warm climates, both can give us great wines
In summary, and given all the troubles endured in cooler climates, warmer temperatures should be the way to go with more sunshine, consistent weather and a longer ripening period producing wines that possess fuller body and flavours. Grapes ripen faster and accumulate more sugars, which result in higher alcohol levels during fermentation. Darker fruit flavours often dominate like plums, blueberries, blackberries, and these wines can even exhibit chocolate and liquorice notes.
But warm climate viticulture has its problems, too. Growers often struggle to retain acidity in the grapes—which dips as sugar accumulates—and keeping their wines tasting fresh, rather than stewed, shapeless or flabby. Also, grapes grown in hotter climates tend to have thicker skins, which contribute more tannin. The battle to ensure the resulting wine doesn’t need a decade of ageing can add another burden.
While many perceive our cool climate as a weakness, it is, in fact, our greatest strength. Delicate versus powerful. Tart versus ripe. Cool climate versus warm climate. No one style is superior to the other. There’s room for both at your table so compare one of the Italian Series wines to a home grown Stanlake Park English wine and see if you can spot the differences mentioned above.