What does is mean to be Cool Climate?

By / Magazine / August 1st, 2016 / 2

What does it mean to be cool climate? Well, if you think of this past winter you probably wouldn’t be asking that question. Here, I’m asking in a smaller context. In wine terms — what does it mean to be cool climate?

For starters it means high acidity, difficulty growing grapes — especially the big reds — and a fluctuating result from year to year; I’m not talking diurnal temperatures (cool nights and warm days), I’m talking one year is great and everything grows, the next is wet and rainy to the point where the berries are almost waterlogged and the next is so cool the Cabernet and Syrah are destined for Rosé.

Cool climate is tough grape growing to say the least — but it’s the wines that make us all swoon and the ones we all talk about from France, from New Zealand, from Italy. They are all conversation starters, and what they lack in power, more times than not, they make up for in finesse. Their natural acidity helps to keep the wines from becoming jammy and too hot with alcohol. True, the fruit occasionally suffers. After all, big, fluffy, fruity wines are fun to drink, and as any winemaker will tell you “appeal to the masses and win competitions every time.” But give a cool climate wine a chance with dinner and you may have trouble serving warm climate to anybody with a delicate piece of fish on their plate. That’s because cool climate equals food friendly. They may not be the wines you pull out as the walk-around-wine at a party (that’s what California is for), but around the table they make all the difference.

As one Australian winemaker commented to me after a few vintages in Ontario, “I love the natural acidity we get here, to us Aussies acidity was something that usually came in a bag.”


Nicolas Potel and Sylvain Debord at Maison Roche de Bellene

To understand the notion of acidity you’d have to compare hot climate versus cool climate, but that’s a no-brainer. A better way is to seek out cool climate styles and compare those classic grape varieties with their Old World and New World counterparts. Each has developed its own signature style, but as Old World falls behind they try to mimic the New World to make up market share; case in point the Loire versus New Zealand. Each makes Sauvignon Blanc and sometimes those lines get blurred as the Loire tries to play catch-up with New Zealand (which has propelled the grape to new heights with the wine buying public). But if the Loire can stick with its own style, instead of trying to copy others, then when Savvy B drinkers get tired of the flashy New Zealand style they’ll know where to go.

The same can be said for grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Syrah. Each grape brings something to the cool climate portfolio that is different than its hotter climate counterpart. Sure a Burgundian Pinot tastes different than an Oregon or a Tasmanian, but each has its place in the lexicon of wine lovers as long as you know what you’re looking for and why you’re going to that particular place in the world for that particular grape variety. There are points and counterpoints and then there are the extremes. These are the easiest to detect. It is those subtle nuances that we get from cool climate regions that really make wine so interesting and so much fun to learn about.

Top image: Kevin Judd from Greywacke


Maison Roche de Bellene Vieilles Vignes Meursault 2010, Burgundy, France ($48.95)

Creamy with lime meringue and peach puree and a shot of vanilla and butter cream, sounds sloppy but once that acidity hits the back palate, bang, you’re back for more.


Domaine Berthenet Montagny 1er Cru, Burgundy, France ($27.95)

Nice depth and roundness of flavour, some apple, peach and a small dollop of vanilla that can be found at the back; once again acidity is the cornerstone.


Domaine Vincent Sauvestre Bourgogne Chardonnay 2013, Burgundy, France ($19.95)

While the nose is subtle and white fruited the palate punches you in the mouth with Chardonnay flavour and a nice spiced finish.


Greywacke Chardonnay 2012, New Zealand ($45.95)

Rich and full flavoured with butterscotch, almond, butter, and spice, fruit should emerge with time in bottle but those seemingly sweet notes are counterbalanced by the acidity.


Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay 2013, New Zealand ($34.95)

Hints of almond and praline with white fruits on the mid-palate and through to the finish where a mineral hit kicks in; New Zealand Chardonnays are really starting to show great finesse.


sauvignon blanc

Chateau de Sancerre 2013, Loire, France ($24.95)

Here the subtlety of the Loire kicks in: pleasant bit of grassy and grapefruit rind which are just all part of the grape’s charm.


William Fevre Saint-Bris 2013, Burgundy, France ($20.95)

One of the few allowed Sauvignon Blanc plantings in Burgundy; nice nose and flavours of Sauvignon Blanc with grapefruit pith finish and some minerality peeking through.


Stoneleigh Latitude Sauvignon Blanc 2014, New Zealand ($21.95)

Balancing the more robust flavours of pink grapefruit with the grassy and tropical fruit; it’s a really pretty wine.


Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014, New Zealand ($24.95)

Putting all the right things together, it’s the typical New Zealand Savvy B we all know and love with its intensity of grapefruit, grassy and gooseberry notes all shot up with big acidity.


pinot noir

Auntsfield Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, New Zealand ($29.95)

Delicate yet fruit-driven Pinot Noir with cherry, raspberry and tart cranberry on the finish.


Marchand-Tawse Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2012, Burgundy, France ($29.95)

Classic styling with more earthy notes to complement the black cherry, mineral and cranberry.


Carabella Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Oregon, USA ($46.95)

Oregon has a myriad of Pinot-styles, this one hits the dark and delicate side: boysenberry, cassis, black cherry and hint of liquorice with a nice mineral aspect on the finish.


Mayschoss 140 Jahre Jubilaumswein Trocken Pinot Noir 2013, Germany ($21.95)

Germany is now one of the top producers of this grape in the world, and they are showing some pretty classic styling: a certain smoky element with nice cranberry and a cherry/mineral finish.


Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2013, Australia ($23.95)

From Tasmania, where they do cool climate extremely well and Pinot perfectly: really juicy core surrounded by cherry, raspberry, spice with a touch of floral on the finish, all sprinkled with white pepper.


pinot gris

Pierre Sparr Reserve Pinot Gris 2013, Alsace, France ($16.95)

Sure Alsace has a little sweetness behind their Pinot Gris but it’s the acidity that keeps this from being syrup, flavours are classic hints of honeyed white fruits and floral notes.


Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2014, Alto Adige, Italy ($19.95)

This citrus dominated Pinot Grigio is full of lemon, lime and hints of grapefruit with lively acidity and a pleasantly long finish.


Rapaura Springs Pinot Gris 2013, New Zealand ($17.95)

This wine brings the fruit in the form of apple, peach and pear; fresh and fruity, a real patio sipper with wonderful balancing acidity.


Opawa Pinot Gris 2014, New Zealand ($16.95)

Another white fruit showstopper, but here there’s a little mineral and citrus that helps keep it fresh.



Elephant Hill Red Label Syrah 2013, New Zealand ($22.95)

Everything Syrah should be, a touch smoky, meaty, peppery along with hints of spiced-raspberry and a long, peppery finish.




Michael is an award-winning journalist: Promoting the Promoters Award Cuvée 2010 and Ontario Wine Awards Journalist of the Year 2012.  He is also a national and international wine judge - Ontario Wine Awards, All Canadian Wine Championships; Best of Riesling — Germany; Essencia do Vinho — "Top Wines of Portugal".  He is currently the President of the Wine Writers Circle of Canada and the wine columnist for Ottawa Life and Grand magazine as well as regular contributor to Tidings, and Grapevine ... his reviews have also appeared in the LCBO Vintages magazine. Michael has also added a YouTube channel to his activities where he reviews bottles of great Ontario wine on a weekly basis. In whatever he does, it is Michael’s desire to educate, inspire and encourage others to grow their own love and enthusiasm for wine – and to realize that it is their palate that ultimately makes the decision.

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