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Climate, elevation keys to wine styles

Climate, elevation keys to wine styles

Finding a wine fitting your taste is not only a challenge for the enthusiast, but also connoisseurs. While there are many factors that determine wine styles, the vast diversity of the world’s climate and thousands of wine grapes growing across the globe bring the most variety in the taste and body style.

Climate describes what weather conditions (temperatures, rainfall, sunshine) are expected in a typical year. Climates suitable for wine production are generally divided into hot and cool climates. Broadly speaking, a region’s climate is determined by the latitude or, more simply, how close it is to the equator. The closer a region is to the equator, the hotter the climate: Think of South Africa versus Germany.

Elevation also has an influence. A region at high elevation will have a cooler climate than one closer to sea level even if they share the same latitude. The oceans also influence a wine region, depending on the temperature of the water. Consider the warm ocean current of Western Europe, and many wine regions of California, Chile and South Africa are cooled by cold ocean currents.

A general rule: Hot climate wines will generally be higher in alcohol, fuller body, with more tannin and less acidity. Cooler climate wines will generally have less alcohol, lighter body and more acidity.

Hot/warm climate regions — Argentina, Australia, southern Italy, California, central Spain, central Portugal and Southern France.


  • 2015 Pascual Toso Malbec Mendoza, Argentina (about $15 retail)


  • 2015 Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz, Australia (about $32 retail)

Cool climate regions — Oregon, Washington state, New Zealand, Northern France, Germany


  • 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewurztraminer, Washington (about $12 retail)


  • 2015 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $33 retail)

California’s fog, wind work their magic

Every fine wine region has its own terroir — climate, soil type, topography — and it is believed these unique conditions give wines their distinct characteristics and styles.

Examples of terroir include Bordeaux’s Garonne River with its gravel and clay soils or Burgundy’s Jurassic limestone nestled in with a perfect sun exposure. California’s Monterey County has also joined this terroir club with a few geological wonders.

Beneath Monterey Bay is an enormous submarine canyon 60 miles long and two miles wide. Compared in size and depth to the Grand Canyon, the underwater canyon is sometimes called the “Blue Grand Canyon.” This canyon provides a unique climate pathway connecting the sea to the wine-growing regions of Monterey, bringing cool maritime influences with fog and wind.

The impact of the canyon is seen through a visual representation called “The Thermal Rainbow,” another term trademarked by the growing region for its diverse attributes. During the morning Monterey County is cool, about 55 degrees and mainly covered by a thick marine layer. As the sun rises the valley warms, burning off the fog and slowly heating the air. This heat forces warm air to rise and create a low-pressure effect. Cool air from the ocean is drawn and funneled through the Gabilan and Santa Lucia mountain ranges. This air flow acts as a natural airconditioning system resulting in a range of temperatures from the north to the south and allowing for slow, gentle ripening of the grapes.

Vineyards are planted specif ically within The Thermal Rainbow, with cool-climate loving pinot noir and chardonnay found mainly in the north and sunloving cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and Rhone varieties flourishing in the south.

For more information or to plan a trip to this beautiful wine region visit their website at montereywines.org.


  • 2008 Chalone Vineyards Chardonnay, California (about $18 retail)
  • 2008 The Hess Collection Monterey Chardonnay, California (about $18 retail)
  • 2008 Wente Vineyards Merlot, California (about $19 retail)


  • 2008 J. Lohr Vineyards Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $23 retail)
  • 2008 Morgan Winery Monterey County Pinot Noir, California (about $47 retail)
  • 2007 Heller Estate Chardonnay, California (about $34 retail)