As many of those who have more experience with Italian wines will be able to tell you, there are many factors that determine just how good a vintage will be during any particular year. This can lead to a vintage that was top-notch in one year actually taking a marked dip in quality that is not a reflection of the techniques used to create the wine as much as it is the natural surroundings that may have led to the grapes growing in an unsatisfactory manner.
Far and away the largest contributor to such issues is the climate, with sudden changes in temperature having a large effect on the grapes. Of course, some grapes adjust well to warm climates, whereas others prefer cold, so the climate of a region will also play a large part in what can actually be grown there and, by proxy, the types of wine that can be produced.
However, many people still struggle to see exactly what sort of effect changes in climate can have on a wine, so here we are going to look to clear up a little bit of confusion and examine how changes in temperature and other conditions can have a marked effect on the quality of a wine.
We’ll take a look at the cooler end of the spectrum first. Areas with cooler climates will tend to be determined based on their latitude, which is one of the reasons why Germany produces a lot of grapes that grow best in cooler climates. However, you will often find that areas of high elevation also lead to cooler climates, which means there are some particularly hilly and mountainous areas of Italy that also offer colder weather.
For example, Boca, which is in North-western Italy, is one of these supposed Alpine regions, experiencing its own microclimate that is not altogether like anything you may experience anywhere else in Italy. Elevation not taken into account though, you generally find that cooler climates are found in countries that are further away from the equator.
The grapes grown in such regions must be capable of taking in as much sunlight as possible in a short period of time, particularly as they are often grown in cloudy regions. In fact, in many cases these types of grapes will have been specially adapted over time so that they are capable of ripening despite the weaker sunlight and cooler temperatures.
Generally, such grapes will be very thin-skinned, so as to serve this purpose. As tannin and colour obviously live in the skin of the grape, you will find that there is less potential for the development of both in grapes grown in colder climates, which of course has an effect on the types of wine that can be produced using them.
Speaking of the wines, those produced using grapes grown in colder regions tend to be a little more elegant than those made in warmer climates, not least because it often takes a certain amount of skill to make proper use of the grapes. The fact that such grapes often don’t reach their full potential when it comes to ripeness will usually mean that the sugar content in the grapes is lower than may be expected, which in turn leads to a lower alcohol output when the grape is fermented.
As such, many of the wines made using grapes from cooler climates will usually be fairly light and easy to consume, often making them ideal for introducing people to the world of wine. Whites are bright, crisp and often contain easily recognisable floral notes. Reds are often a little more complex and require more skill to achieve quality, due to the lower level of ripeness and tannins in the grapes. Again, herbal and floral notes will often be easy to spot.
And now we come to warmer climates. If you have ever been on a wine vacation, it is likely that you will have gone to such an area and it is fair to say that warmer climates are experienced by the majority of Italian grapes, given that the country is Mediterranean.
Tuscany is perhaps one of the most famous regions to explore if you are looking for the effect that warm climates can have on grapes, and it is no coincidence that the area is one of the most famous in all of the world when it comes to the creation of red wine in particular.
Such areas will usually be closer to the equator and are less elevated. They experience more clear sunshine in addition to warmer temperatures, which, as we learned earlier, has a direct influence on the composition of the grape.
Speaking of the grapes, those grown in warmer temperatures will actually need to create natural safeguards to protect themselves from the effects of too much sunlight. Whereas grapes grown in cooler areas are very thin-skinned, so as to absorb as much sunlight as possible, those in warmer areas have very thick skins so that they can take in whatever sunlight they need without taking in so much that they start shrivelling.
This usually means that warmer areas are primed for the growing of thick and juicy red grapes, though there are some particularly hardy white varieties that can thrive as well. As mentioned before, it is no surprise that some of the most famous red wine regions in Italy also happen to be amongst its most temperate.
As for the wines produced with such grapes, their thick skins lead to more structure and a far more pronounced tannin. While it would be inaccurate to claim that this makes the job of the winemaker easier, this does mean that they are presented with different challenges. Ripe sugars inside the grapes will lead to wines being produced that have a higher alcohol content, plus the fermentation process can be continued for a longer period of time, meaning such wines often get better with age.
Whites from warmer climates are often more complex that their cooler brethren, featuring notes of citrus and other tropical fruits. Reds are much more powerful, featuring complex notes that are a joy to explore.