Did you know there are many influences on the style and flavor of wines? Consequently, there have been many books written, classes taught and research done all about how a wine’s style and flavor are impacted. Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper believes there are no more important influences than climate and wine making. In order to describe the dramatic effect these two elements have on wine, he says one must generalize. And there are certainly exceptions to every rule. But more times than not, these are true.
How a wine’s style and flavor are impacted: Climate
Let’s start with the all-important climate of the vineyard. Keep in mind, climate is different than weather. Climate is the long-term behavior of the area, where weather is the short-term behavior.
Although there are many growing influences that affect the complexity and intensity of how a wine’s style and flavor are impacted, the climate has the largest effect. Certainly we all realize this is a general statement. However, if you say the world divides into cold, cool, warm and hot climates, these broad general classifications paint a mind’s eye view of the world’s climate. One of the exceptions to these generalities, which speaks to the importance of vintage, is there are warm years in cool climate areas and cold years in warm climate areas. Toss in climate change, and it gets very interesting.
Professionals tend to divide the world of wine into two climates: warm and cool with the modifier moderate, as in moderately cool or moderately warm. But for our purposes, we will keep it simple and general, especially as we do not see wine that produces in cold and hot climates.
In warm climate, grapes produce wines that have very ripe, almost sweet tasting fruit with high alcohol and low acid. They tend to be medium to full-bodied, rich and powerful wines that are very enjoyable to drink by themselves or with simple foods. Examples of warm climate areas include California, Australia and South America, among others.
In cool climate, grapes produce wines that have more tart tasting fruit with moderate alcohol and high acid. They are light to medium-bodied wines with more fragrance and elegance. They tend to be more enjoyable with a wide range of foods. Examples of cool climate areas include Germany, Austria, northern France and northern Italy, among others.
How a wine’s style and flavor are impacted: Wine making
Winemakers can put their fingerprint on the wines they make, or they can keep the wine’s fingerprint. Some call this Old World or traditional wine making versus New World or modern wine making.
France, Italy, Spain and Germany are historic wine producing regions that mostly practice Old World wine making. This method emphasizes the flavor of the grape through regionalism; therefore there is less use of oak and wine making techniques. A lack of technology means these wines will not be squeaky clean, so wine making does not cover secondary flavors of minerals, stones, earth, and forest floor develop.
Young wine producing regions such as the United States, Australia, South Africa, South America and New Zealand mainly practice New World wine making. It focuses on producing a specific style of wine regardless of grape type. Marketing dictates the use of technology to make lush, fruit-forward wine that is lavishly oaked and garners big points from the wine critics. The winemaker is the star, not the grape or region.
There are exceptions to these generalities, such as New World and modern wine making in Old World countries or Old World wine making in New World countries.
Cool climate wine
Sancerre Merlin-Cherrier 14 (Loire, France). Loire Valley arguably makes some of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world. The region that makes the best Sauvignon Blanc in the Loire Valley is Sancerre. Sancerre includes Meyer lemons, gooseberries, fresh herbs and minerals. The wine is dry with a light body and high acid. It is also a domain bottle.
Viognier Zaca Mesa 14 (Santa Ynez, California). The grape viognier originally hails from Northern Rhone, France. It it ultra-ripe, with an amazing full body, texture and perfume. It is also rich, low acid and dry, with flavors of white peach, honeysuckle and an explosive oral fruit basket.
Barolo Paolo Scavino ‘05 (Piedmont, Italy). Barolo is from the northern Italian region of Piedmont. This wine comes from the Nebbiolo grape and also is arguably one of the best grapes in Italy for red wine. The wine is dry and tannic with a full body and flavors of blackberries, leather, earth and roses.
Cabernet Blend Chappellet Mountain Cuvee ‘07 (Napa Valley, California). This wine is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 51%, Merlot 46%, Malbec 1%, Cabernet Franc 1% and Petit Verdot 1%. This is a big, rich, spicy and oak-filled mouthful of a wine with flavors of cola, blackberries, plums and mocha.