It doesn’t take a genius to know that grapes struggle to grow here in Tundraland. Our harsh winters are not conducive to the varieties that thrive in France, California and Australia. Even if the planet warms considerably, it’s unlikely that chardonnay vineyards will pop up in Sauk Rapids.
However, there are plenty of robust wine regions with latitudes higher than our own 45 degrees. And I’m not just talking about Scandinavia’s emerging vinous scene (tinyurl.com/y8maa96e), which includes a winery in Pasvik, Norway, at 70 degrees, more than 1,700 miles farther north than us.
Like ours, the Scando efforts are relatively new, but farther south in Europe (and still north of 45 degrees), grapes have had centuries to evolve and flourish in their climate. Those climes are generally more temperate, especially in winter, than in our landlocked locale.
So even though we’re on the exact latitude of two of the world’s foremost wine regions, Bordeaux in France and Oregon’s Willamette Valley, we simply don’t have the conditions to grow the grapes that work there.
Thankfully, though, we can enjoy plenty of wines that come from latitudes well above ours.
Interestingly, those are entirely in our own hemisphere. Almost all wines from the Southern Hemisphere, even in Argentina’s chilly Patagonia and Africa’s southernmost tip in South Africa, have latitudes well below ours. The lone exception is New Zealand’s Central Otago district, which is smack-dab on the 45th parallel.
Here are some swell wines to check out from points north:
Walla Walla: This dry, dusty outpost used to be known primarily for onions, but now wine is king out Washington way. I’m especially enamored of the merlots, which are almost uniformly very expressive and rich but refined. Look for L’Ecole No. 41, Northstar, Seven Hills and Dusted Valley, each of them an antidote for merlot bashers.
Canada: Even the best wines on local shelves and wine lists — Inniskillin’s stunningly pristine and precise ice wines — are made with grapes grown south of us. But there’s hope. I tasted fantastic grenache and gewürztraminer from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley this year, but Byzantine laws have made it too onerous for that region’s wineries to cross the border.
England: Our friends across the pond have been honing and now mastering the production of sparkling wines, especially in the province of Kent. The Hush Heath Estate Balfour 1503 is not only seriously delicious and beautifully balanced, but can hold its own against most anything from Champagne. Speaking of which. …
Champagne: The big houses continue to churn out (mostly) choice stuff, but it’s been especially cool to have standouts from Bourgeois-Diaz and Bérêche et Fils enter our market in recent years, joining stellar “grower Champagnes” such as Marc Hebrart and Pierre Callot.
Loire: So much marvelous fermented grape juice emanates from this French region, from bone-dry, seafood-loving Muscadets to plush chenin blancs of varying dryness/sweetness from Vouvray. But let’s focus on Touraine, which provides some of the world’s best sauvignon blanc values, generally well under the prices of neighboring Sancerre but not far behind in quality. Check out Chidaine, Corbillieres, Les Deux Tours or Rin du Bois — and thank me later.
Germany: Yes, it’s chilly there, and the growing season is actually about as abbreviated as ours. But it’s not as bone-chillingly cold in winter, so riesling in particular prospers there. But so do other varieties, and two examples worth seeking out are the earthy but lush Darting Pinot Meunier and the sweet-tart, alluring Kessler-Zink Scheurebe.
This list doesn’t even include my favorite wine region, Burgundy, but you get the idea. Basically, we can tweak the old cliché and declare, “Go north, young man” to find a wealth of wondrous wines.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.