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A guide to cool climate wines

The next time you are visiting the Grange Restaurant or cellar door at Glen Erin ask us about the many factors that give a wine its tastes and aromas. You might be surprised that it varies from the type of grape grown, to the soil they are grown in, to the location of the vineyard.

Climate is one of the factors that plays a huge role in how all kinds of fruit grows, including grapes. In a hot climate with direct, strong sunlight, fruit will grow faster and ripen more quickly. The sun helps create more sugar in the fruit, making it sweeter to taste.

In a cold climate, where the sun is not as strong and may not shine for many hours throughout the day, the fruit grows slowly and the sugar content is also slowed down considerably. This is why a lot of ‘summer fruit’ is so much sweeter than the varieties you can buy year round.

Imagine two mangoes side by side, one is ripe and one is not. If you taste them, you’ll of course find the ripe mango is sweet and flavourful. The unripened one has a more bitter taste, as the sugar has not developed as much.

The same thing happens with grapes and, as a knock on effect, with wine. But don’t think of cool climate wines as being unripened or not ready, they just have different characteristics.

A cool climate wine tends to be subtler in taste, with lower alcohol and a light body, but higher in acidity and the accompanying flavours – such as spicy, floral or herbaceous tones – will shine through.

A warm climate wine is generally bigger and bolder, with higher alcohol and less acidity, a fuller body and stronger fruit flavours.

However, it isn’t as simple as expecting all cool climate wines to taste one way, and warm climate wines to taste another. That is because even though climate plays a huge role in the growing of grapes, it isn’t the only factor to consider when it comes to the taste of the end product.

Other influencing factors in how a wine will grow and taste are:

Soil –  Although winemakers and scientists are quite sure that soil doesn’t affect the taste of the wine, it certainly has a lot to do with what can be grown and how. An important aspect of soil for grape growing is the rate of drainage and the extent to which the heat is absorbed and then retained.

Location – It isn’t a given that a cool climate wine variety will taste the same as another cool climate wine of the same variety. Surprisingly, even if the grapes are grown in the same temperature, the location of the vineyard might make a difference in the taste. That is, a vineyard growing on sloping land will experience better drainage than a flat block, and if it is facing in the right direction it may also experience better exposure to sunlight. If the vineyard is up high (in terms of latitude as well as literally – on the side of a hill), it might be in the perfect spot to be protected from frost but also take advantage of sunlight.

Variety of grape – Of course, the grape variety is the main factor in determining the flavour of the wine. Different types of grapes produce different types of wine, and it is up to the grower to decide what they wish to grow. Another decision they will make that has an impact on flavour, is how thick or thin to have the grape clusters. In a cool climate region, it is best to thin out the grape clusters so they have more exposure to sun and ripen faster.

After the wine is made, there are some further factors that will influence the taste. For example, ageing is a process that can be undertaken by the wine grower or by the end consumer. This is where a bottle of wine is allowed to age in the right conditions, such as in a cellar, so that the tannins, alcohol and fruit mix together and balance differently than they do when the wine is young. Once the wine is opened, the serving temperature, glass used and exposure to air will all make a difference to the taste of the wine.

Types of cool climate wines

Although Australia is considered to be a warm climate wine region, we do have cool climate wine areas, such as Victoria and Tasmania. Don’t be fooled by the name though, a cool climate region can get just as hot as a warm climate region. But it’s actually the way the temperature drops off quickly towards harvest time that defines it as cool climate.

All types of wine can be grown in either cool or warm climate, but they will have differing tastes from each other. For example; you can buy a pinot noir from either climate region, but a warm climate pinot will have a fuller body as opposed to the traditional light-bodied pinot. But there are definitely types of wine that you will find do particularly well in each climate, and the ones you’ll find that are great from cool climate regions are:


Sauvignon blanc


Pinot gris


Pinot noir is the main red that does exceptionally well in cool climate wine regions. But some great Shiraz and Cabernets can be produced in cooler areas as well.