Welcome to Portugal! Due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, the majority of the country’s grape growing regions have a moderate maritime climate. However, there are inland areas that experience hot, dry weather patterns, thus are categorized as continental. With the various climatic conditions, it comes as no surprise that the range of grapes grown and wines produced vary from region to region.
I recently posted a Spanish wine Q&A, which did, indeed, cover a lot of information about the country’s wine region. Alas, when writing such posts, there are always a few details that get left behind, and it is those few details that one must be ready for when studying for the WSET Level 3 exam. So, I’m going to do a full wine region overview here.
INTRODUCTION TO SPAIN:
If you look at the map above, Spain can be divided into three climactic zones: 1) In the North (look at Rias Baixas and even Toro), the country is influenced by the Atlantic weather system—i.e., it has a moderate maritime climate. So vineyard risks here are all about the rainfall and associated issues. 2) To the East (move your eyes toward Priorat), the weather is a warm Mediterranean climate. Thus, there are less seasonal severities. Most vineyards are located where they can receive cooling influences from either the ocean or altitude. 3) In the very center, the Meseta Central is a large plateau that defines the center of Spain (take a look at La Mancha above). This plateau is cut off from any maritime influence by mountains. Thus, the climate here is hot continental and the largest issue is drought. Grape growers within the hot, arid center of Spain tend to utilize low-density bush-trained systems to capitalize on the water available and shading grapes from the heat-o-the-sun.
There is so much to know about Spanish wine—I’ve only now come to realize (and appreciate) the vast diversity of the grapes grown and the wine styles produced. That being said, this is definitely one country that I’m worried will stuff me up on my upcoming exam (one month away, by the way). So let’s take a look at some Q&A and see if we can’t unravel the intricacies of this Old World wine country…
Oh, you guys. Chile is a lot more complicated than I initially thought it would be. Help me break it down a bit?
Chile’s winegrape growing region is a long skinny one, with vineyard plantings spanning over 900 kilometers from north to south, but just 100 kilometers from east to west. The four key geographical features that define the area are 1) the Pacific Ocean to the West along with the coastal ranges 2) the Andes to the east 3) two mountain ranges that merge just north of Santiago and 4) the great depression between the two ranges to the south of Santiago creating what is called the Central Valley.
Chile has a warm, Mediterranean climate. One major vineyard concern is drought, as the regions are dry and sunny and experience minimal annual rainfall. Although irrigation is utilized, water for irrigation is in short supply. The other concern comes with the weather: El Niño and La Niña. El Niñorefers to periods of dramatically increased rainfall levels; La Niña refers to periods of excessive drought.
Funny story time: During my tutoring session, my teacher told an amusing anecdote about a WSET Level 3 test she proctored. One woman in the back of the room became visibly upset: huffing and puffing and stirring in her seat. Finally, she grabs her paper, walks up to the head of the classroom and bursts out, “Torrontés? Torrontés??? Are you, serious? Torrontés isn’t important!” To which my teacher replied, “Well, it is in Argentina…”
Amusing, yes. But it also proves a point—all wine regions are important to understand and appreciate. And, on a personal note, I find that while I’m studying these wines different countries—many of which I’ve yet to visit—I’m also gaining an understanding and appreciation for the history, culture, and people, even if just on a surface-level.
So with that amusing and that personal anecdote, I am jumping the equator and traveling to Argentina.
To set the scene Argentina’s wine regions lie along the other side of the Andes as Chile. The regions are spread out over more than 1,500 kilometers from north to south, with most lying at extremely high altitudes—600 meters or more.