Wine: The cool stars from a hot climate
Published 03/07/2010 | 05:00
Cool Australia. Sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn't it? It's not all searingly hot, though, and while Australia is famous for giving us sunshine in a bottle, it also does what are known as cool-climate wines really well.
When we think of wine, we tend to think of a hot climate, which conjures up the stereotypical view of the Australian vineyard or -- closer to home -- the Mediterranean.
But, in winemaking parlance, cool climate is on the margins of the heat and sunshine needed to ripen grapes reliably. Soil and rainfall are also in the equation.
Hot delivers the ripeness we love, although sometimes it can be overly jammy and lacking interest.
Unbridled sun translates into a wine that is out of balance and alcohol levels that cause that burning sensation at the back of the throat, although good winemakers work hard to temper the excesses.
Cool climate may be defined by distance from the equator or from other factors that keep the temperatures down, such as altitude. Tasmania and the Adelaide Hills are Australia's cool-climate stars.
Off-shore Tasmania lies on the same latitude as New Zealand's South Island -- it's already feeling crisper -- and also benefits from Antarctic influences.
Adelaide Hills is in hot South Australia, but rises above the valleys known for hearty reds, such as Barossa and McLaren Vale, and produces an altogether different style. Up in those hills, the daytime temperatures are about five to seven degrees cooler than the valleys -- with a difference of 10-11 degrees at night.
Cool-climate winemaking is more associated with white grapes, which need less warmth than reds. A particular exception among the reds is the thin-skinned Pinot Noir, which doesn't require as much heat as others to achieve full ripeness, and whose delicate perfume is the better for being gently coaxed.
While excess heat makes for flabby wines, cool-climate versions tend to be crisp and aromatic, with a purity of fruit flavour. The whites that can work really well are the likes of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay. It should be no surprise that Tasmania and Adelaide Hills produce racy sparkling wines
More than one in four bottles of wine sold in Ireland is Australian, which makes for a lot of wine, some better than others. You may find that scanning the labels for Tasmania or Adelaide Hills is well worth the effort.