Wine feels the heat: How Bordeaux is adapting to climate change

Too much sun means too much booze for some wines. Can new grape varieties help?

If you are concerned about what will happen to your fine Bordeaux, don’t worry

If you are concerned about what will happen to your fine Bordeaux, don’t worry

 

Last month the INAO, France’s national oversight body for wine, approved six new grape varieties for the Bordeaux region. This is a radical move in normally conservative Bordeaux, where a handful of well-known grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, have always been considered world beaters. 

It is evidence that growers there and elsewhere are worried about the effect of rising temperatures due to climate change. Merlot is the most-planted grape in Bordeaux, but in hot vintages, it produces grapes with too much sugar, which ferments into too much alcohol.

Where Bordeaux was once typically 12%-13.5% alcohol, now it regularly reaches 14% or 14.5%. This is popular with wine drinkers used to New World wines, but it doesn’t appeal to those who enjoy the traditional elegance and restraint of Bordeaux. In the New World, the problem is often solved by adding water, but this is banned in France. Picking earlier is not really a solution as the grapes will not have ripened fully.

The newly approved Bordeaux varieties are both red and white, including Touriga Nacional from Portugal, Albariño from Spain, and other lesser-known grapes such as Marselan, Castets, Arinarnoa and Liliorila. All share a naturally high acidity, late bud-break to avoid spring frost, late ripening and good resistance to vine diseases such as grey rot and downy mildew.

Elsewhere there are winners and losers in climate change. Producers in the most sought-after regions of Burgundy, such as the Côte d’Or, are concerned about rising levels of alcohol, but the wines of the Hautes Côtes de Nuits and Beaune, where ripening was once a problem, are improving thanks to a little extra sunshine. The same holds for the Loire Valley, the Mosel in Germany, and other regions around Europe, too. 

It is a similar story elsewhere. In Australia, hot regions such as the Barossa valley and the giant Riverina and Murray Darling, will have to adapt, whereas cool-climate Tasmania, currently producing high-quality fresh Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, may become the new home to Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The problem is that even for the winners, it may not last very long. If temperatures continue to rise, even the cooler areas will heat up. 

The Catalan firm Torres was one of the first to see the problem, and for years has been researching local grape varieties with the ability to ripen earlier, as well as planting new vineyards at much higher altitudes. 

If you are concerned about what will happen to your fine Bordeaux, don’t worry; the new varieties are only permitted for AOC Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur and may not exceed 5 per cent of vineyard area or 10 per cent of any wine. 

Le Petit Courselle Les Copines 2019, Vin de France 
12.5%, €15.75
A blend of Sauvignon and Sémillon, two traditional varieties, with Chardonnay, banned in Bordeaux, hence the Vin de France label. Lively and refreshing with lovely weight and texture. Perfect with all kinds of seafood or goat’s cheese salads.
From Wines Direct, Mullingar, and Arnott’s, Dublin 1, winesdirect.ie.

Château St Marie Réserve 2018 Bordeaux Supérieur
14%, €15.95 (down from €18.95) 
An elegant, refreshing wine with delicious pure dark fruits and a hint of tannin on the finish. Bordeaux as it should be. Enjoy it with roast lamb, cold roast beef, or mushroom dishes. 
From O’Briens, obrienswine.ie  

Pézat 2016, Bordeaux Supérieur
14%, €20.99 
Medium to full-bodied with ripe plum fruits, plenty of spice and a dry finish. Drink with a roast of beef, or a rare striploin steak.  
From Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Joyce’s Supermarkets, Galway, joycesupermarket.ie; Gibney’s, Malahide, gibneys.com; Gibney’s, Malahide, gibneys.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com

Duc de Nauves, Côtes de Bordeaux 2016
12.5%, €25 
For those who enjoy traditional Bordeaux, a very refined, elegant wine with slightly earthy blackcurrant fruits, and a fine acidity, lingering very nicely. Perfect with a roast of lamb, or dishes featuring red peppers.  
From Loose Cannon, Dublin 2, loosecanon.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Wine Upstairs, Forest Avenue, D4, wineupstairs.ie

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