Before jumping into the next region it will be helpful to have a general understanding of one of wine’s most important issues – Climate.
Rather than getting in too deeply into the nuances of each region, the everyday consumer should have a general yet practical guideline on how to think about climate, and how this affects the wines they might buy.
Climate is a very complex topic, and every wine region in the world will have it’s own unique mix of factors that affect the choice of grapes grown and the styles of wine made.
The following is a guide that needs very little study or memorization; you will be able to use your imagination to draw rough but accurate conclusions.
The Rule Of L.A.W.
No, this has nothing to do with government or legislation (which could be the subject of an entirely separate article), nor does it have anything to do with my surname.
It just happens to be a useful acronym that stands for:
These are the three major factors that will determine the overall climate of any given region.
Let us have a brief look at each of these one by one.
The grapevine is a living thing, and like all living things there are conditions where it will thrive, and outside of these it will struggle.
On one extreme, we have the North and South Poles. Much too cold for normal plant life to exist.
On the other, there is the Equator, constantly exposed to the sun’s light and heat, too harsh for something as sensitive as the grapevine.
So it stands to reason that there is a narrow band between these two extremes that is optimal for vine cultivation.
As it happens, the general guide is between 30° and 50° North and South.
30° is closer to the Equator, so it will be warmer. 50° is closer to the Poles, so it will be cooler.
This is the first major factor that will determine a wine region’s climate.
Latitude helps us to consider a region’s position on the map in two dimensions. Altitude brings the third dimension into play.
Imagine a towering mountain, capped with snow, gracefully arching downwards to the warm and fertile plains. Now you know how to visualize altitude’s effect on climate.
Higher altitude = Lower temperature.
The oft-quoted example is Argentina with it’s lovely Malbec wines. If one only took it’s latitude into account (around 32°S) one might expect the wines to be excessively plump and jammy. But because of it’s altitude (with some vineyards sited at 2000m-3000m!) this mitigates the latitudinal effects on the climate.
This is the second major factor determining a region’s climate.
Large bodies of water, whether they be oceans, rivers or lakes, affect the climate by acting as a kind of battery that stores and releases energy.
Imagine you are in the middle of a desert, but here there is a large oasis. During the day it is hot, but the oasis absorbs and stores this heat, and evaporated water spreads out to cool the surrounding area.
Now it is night time, the desert is cold, but the water in the oasis is still warm from the heat collected during the day. This heat is now slowly released into the air, warming up the surrounding area.
The lesson here is: Water Moderates Extremes.
For this reason, lakes, rivers and oceans play an important role in moderating the climate of many wine regions, especially when they are located at latitudinal extremes and altitude does not have a significant effect.
Applying the Rule of L.A.W.
Armed with this guideline, you will now be able to visualize for yourself a particular region’s growing conditions, and how this could potentially affect the quality of the wines made there.
For example, think about Italy: are you visualizing the warm, sun-drenched Mediterranean coasts, or the bitingly cold north close to the Alps?
You could also apply this guideline backwards, first tasting the wine, rationally breaking down it’s attributes, and coming up with a short list of possible origins – a simpler version of a deductive tasting.
As you gain experience and build up your mental database of wines, always try to take notes!
Read more: 5 Wine Questions I Always Ask Guests