Should We Care if a Warming Climate Changes the Taste of Wine?

nordic grapesBritt Karlsson in BK Wine Magazine asks “Should we lament that the taste of wines have changed?

That the wines we are accustomed to drinking will eventually change is probably inevitable in the wake of climate change. Some regions may need to change the grape variety, the heat may cause the acidity to drop, etc. This is especially a problem for the winegrowers who may be facing more unpredictable weather.

But for the wine consumers? Is it a problem for us that the taste of the wines we drink changes?

Her answer is no. I’m not so sure. Her argument is based on the fact that the taste of wine has always changed throughout history and we’ve come to accept that.

How did the wines taste before phylloxera hit during the second half of the 19th century? Nobody knows today. …

Those who started drinking wine in the 1970s and 1980s know that there has been a tremendous change in quality and variety since then. And thus, also of taste and character. We drink totally different wines today. Even the wines that come from the same regions that we drank at the time taste quite different today.

In fact, wine consumers easily accept new tastes. Remember when the New World wines emerged in the 1990s. People quickly became accustomed to (and liked) the more powerful and alcohol-richer warm-climate wines.

All of this is of course true up to a point. The vast majority of wine consumers probably won’t care if ripeness and alcohol levels increase because of climate change. They will be happy as long as the wine is drinkable. But connoisseurs and serious wine lovers who support the premium, fine wine market might care if ripeness levels wipe out the distinctive variations that classical wine regions produced. Sure we are happy to drink ripe Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands and inky Shiraz from Barossa. But that’s only because we can always return to Burgundy or the Cote Rotie if we want a different expression. New World wines expanded the variations we can enjoy. Climate change threatens to reduce variation and that will be something to lament.

Of course it may be that as Burgundy gets too hot for quality Pinot Noir we might find satisfaction drinking Pinot from Scandinavia or Iceland. But there is no guarantee that emerging wine regions in the north are capable of producing wines of such transcendent quality as the best from Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Barolo. The fact is that even at the accelerated pace of the modern world it takes decades to develop a wine region. We won’t know for a very long time whether the classic wine regions are replaceable.

The issue is not whether the taste of wine will change. Of course it will. The question is whether the changes enhance or inhibit variations and overall quality. We simply don’t know the answer to that.

So we should probably not be too sanguine about the effects of climate change.

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