Have you heard of cool climate wines, seen them on the shelf of your local bottle shop or ordered a bottle at your favourite restaurant? ‘What are cool climate wines?’ is a comment question as wine drinkers search for new varietals, styles of wine and regions to explore. The best way to describe the difference in cool climate wines is to explain the impact of the climate on the fruit and the resulting flavour profile of these wines.

Cool climate wines are made from grapes grown either:

  • South of latitude 37.5 degrees South
  • North of latitude 37.5 degrees North
  • From a property in the Southern or Northern Hemisphere which has an average January/July (as applicable) temperature below 19.5 degrees Celsius, as confirmed by the nearest Bureau of Meteorology site, or a vineyard site above 400m in altitude.

These vineyards are exposed to concentrated sunlight and cooler air temperatures which allow for longer ripening periods producing better balanced wines with moderate alcohol levels. The lower temperatures and higher solar radiation at these various altitudes, make for more concentrated flavours in the wines as UV rays are better able to penetrate the skins of the grape and ripen the pips producing supple tannins.

Aromas and flavours in cool climate wines are complex and intense with the natural acidity bringing brightness and freshness. Cool climate wines are also better suited to match a wide range of foods due to medium bodied flavour profile which compliment your meal rather than overwhelm it.

Some grape varieties are better suited to high altitude vineyards than others. White varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio tend to be more delicate with crisp acidity, a lighter flavour body and typically show bright fruit flavours. Red varieties such as Shiraz/Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon tend to be well balanced, good length of flavour and generous typical fruit characteristic of the variety e.g.  Shiraz – plum and Cabernet Sauvignon – mint.

It’s important to note that cool climate wines present a number of challenges for viticulturists and winemakers. The high altitude location of these vineyards requires them to be even savvier due to relatively narrow climate niches for optimum production and quality. Small changes in climate bring about challenges to produce the wonderfully elegant wines that are increasingly popular with consumers around Australia and all over the world.

Research by the CSIRO and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (2007) has projected a number of important changes to the climate of Australia over the next few decades as global warming proceeds. These include higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, higher average temperatures, lower rainfall in southern areas of Australia, more variable rainfall and frequent extreme weather events. So maybe the growth of planting in cool climate regions such as Hilltops, Tumbarumba and Canberra are the first signs of grape grower’s planning for the future of the Australian wine industry.