We’re sure you know that climate can have a huge effect on Italian wine. We’ve written about the effects of climate change in this blog in the past, and have spoken in great depth about how an unfavourable climate can affect grape yields and quality.
But we must also remember that climate isn’t uniform. Where a region is located plays a massive part in the climate it experiences. For example, a region that’s close to the equator will experience hotter weather, whereas one on the coast may experience larger temperature variations than a region in the centre of a country.
Every wine producer has to account for the climate he or she faces when growing their grapes and making their wines. Naturally, climate also affects the types of grapes that a producer can grow. This has led to an interesting phenomenon where you can tell what climate a wine comes from, based on a range of factors.
In fact, Italian and global wines can be roughly separated into those that come from hot and cold climates.
Let’s take a look at each in more detail, and some of the factors that you can look for to determine the climate that a wine comes from.
Warm Climate Regions
As a general rule, a warm climate region will enjoy more consistent temperatures throughout the year. This is usually because of their proximity to the equator. The seasonal weather that affects other regions still takes place here, but that hot band around the centre of the Earth mitigates cold snaps. Frost is much less of an issue, so some could even argue that those in such regions have it slightly easier than those in cooler climates.
The most important thing to note here is that the slow transition from summer into autumn that occurs in such regions means that producers have even more time to allow their grapes to ripen. As a result, you’ll often find that wines from warm climate regions have a slightly sweeter taste than their cool climate brethren. The sugars in the grapes have been able to develop further, which means the natural taste of the fruit comes to the fore.
The flipside is that the grapes also lose some of the acidity that gives the wine that little snap that so many people enjoy. This makes for a smoother drinking experience, but gives the wine less of a bite. You’ll enjoy more prominent fruity flavours, and some would argue that wines from warm regions gain some complexity in regards to the bouquet.
However, they do gain something when it comes to the structure of the tannins. Others will tell you that a fully ripe grape is better to work with, and wines from warm regions tend to carry higher alcohol contents and almost “feel” warmer than wines from cool regions. That’s probably because the higher alcohol content intoxicates you quicker, but it’s a strange sensation nonetheless.
Warm climate wines also have a greater potential for ageing because of their stronger tannins, greater structure, and high sugar content. You could argue that this means that reach maturity slower than cool climate wines. As a result, you may want to give a warm climate wine several years to really come into its own. A good wine cellar will help with this.
As a general rule, any region that falls within Sicily and the southern territories of Italy will be considered a warm climate wine. These regions are the closest to the equator, and enjoy more sunshine than the rest of the country. Contrast this to regions in the more mountainous north, and you can instantly make assumptions that the type of wine produced between the two will differ.
Cool Climate Regions
You can probably guess quite a bit about the structure of a cool region wine from what we’ve written above. Producers have far less time to pick their grapes in colder regions, which means that many can’t let the grapes reach full maturity. This lessens the sugar content, thus lowering the alcohol volume. However, it does man that the wines pack a more acidic punch than their warm climate brethren. This almost makes them feel fresher, again, almost like a cool breeze would make you feel.
One thing to remember is a cool climate region isn’t devoid of sun. In fact, they can get as hot as warm climate regions. The difference is that temperatures in the latter stay consistent, whereas those in cool climate regions last for less time, and drop much more sharply. This is most prominently felt in the transition from summer to autumn. A process than may take a month or more in a warm climate region may only take a week or two in a cool climate area.
The less-ripe state of the grapes affects the wine’s body too. They’ll tend to be lighter than warm climate wines, which is why so many sparkling whites from the north of Italy. You’ll also notice many more floral and citrus notes, which again come from the heightened acidity. Red wines, in particularly, have a finer taste that may make them more palatable, depending on what you prefer.
It’s also important to note vintage here. A particularly warm year may offer a cool climate wine some of the characteristics that are normally reserved for warm climate wines.
Which is Better?
The right answer here is neither. In fact, climate differences are important in the wine industry because of the sheer variety that they allow for. One person may prefer the acidity of a cool climate white wine, whereas another may want to explore the depths of a warm climate red. As with many things in the Italian wine industry, it all comes down to personal taste.
What climate does affect is the wine that can come from a region. A wine that requires a warm climate will lose quality when coming from a cool region, and vice versa. Interestingly, you also find that some grapes can grow in both regions, offering their wines completely different characteristics depending on the climate.
So neither is better than the other. Just think of cool and warm as two sides of the same coin.
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