To understand the impact of climate on wine, look to sauvignon blanc. The weather affects other varieties, of course, but sauvignon blanc, a.k.a. sauv blanc or even savvy among its closest friends, is illustrative because the consequence of temperature is so easy to taste.
Sauvignon blanc’s homeland is the Loire Valley of France, where it reaches its supreme expression in the mineral wines of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. The Loire is considered a cool-climate wine region. You won’t find rich, fleshy chardonnay there, and full-bodied reds of cabernet sauvignon and syrah are virtually unheard of. A good Sancerre, such as the Henry Natter 2010 ($29), tastes of red currants and a tinge of smoke. There is also a slight, yet noticeable, green quality: a grassy herbal flavor that is sauvignon blanc’s signature.
Transplant the vine to an even cooler region, such as New Zealand, and the grassiness becomes more pronounced. New Zealand savvy became a worldwide rage in the 1990s as consumers grooved to the wine’s pungent herbal qualities and racy acidity. Sauvignon blanc became a darling of the “anything but chardonnay” crowd tired of oaky, buttery flavors in their white wine.