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Those who’ve been in the trade a while could reel off the benefits of high-altitude viticulture without any bother. We’re sure of that. So, the aim of these ‘What’s what’ pieces (there will be more…) isn’t to explain stuff to you that you already know well, but to give you a ready-made resource to share with your customers and/or staff – the Readers’ Digest version of some of Wine’s most used phrases. Up first: high-altitude.


 

Spend any amount of time clicking around the internet reading wine info sheets – our own website included – you’ll notice that, wherever relevant, there’s a term that wine marketers love to bandy about – high-altitude. Now, we know what that means right? It means the vines are grown half-way up a hill somewhere. They probably also come with some sexy shots of people picking grapes, surrounded by dewy mist against a backdrop of snowy peaks. We’ve seen it all before.

One thing that can be tricky, however, is to sum it up in as few words as possible on the shop or restaurant floor is why that’s important and the ‘so what’ for wine drinkers. We’ve put together this quick summary of key points of high-altitude winemaking, so feel free to share it with your customers if you feel it’s relevant!

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Key Points:

 

The tricky thing about ‘high-altitude’ is who gets to decide what’s high? After all, almost everything in South America is unbelievably high compared to vineyards in the Old World. Generally though, anything over 500m above sea level in Europe seems to qualify in most people’s book, whereas those in the new world reckon 1,200m is probably a more sensible starting point.

 

 

 

 

 

For every 100m up you go, avg. temperature drops by just under 1°C. The cooler temperatures slow ripening in the grape, producing wines that generally tend to have lower alcohol and higher acidity. Add into the equation the influence of the big difference between day and night temperature levels (diurnal range) and the often rocky soils that mountain slopes bring, and you get lighter, fresher wines with plenty of minerality… Generally!

 

Of course, climate change continues to have a big effect on winemaking around the world. Many of the world’s primary winemaking areas are getting warmer, leading to higher sugar levels and lower acidity in the grapes. To avoid unbalanced and over-alcoholic wines, many producers are looking for sites that are relatively high up in order to try and lengthen the growing season and counteract the difficulties that climate change brings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is what really counts: how different do high-altitude wines taste? As we’ve already said ‘freshness’ is the signature characteristic of wines grown at altitude. But there is also more often than not a strong intensity of flavour, as well as deep colour and occasionally high tannin in some reds. Vines have to work hard at altitude, and what hard-working vines have to say – in terms of the wines they can produce – is well worth listening to!

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Those are the key things most wine drinkers will find useful to know about high-altitude wines. Of course, as with anything in wine, there are ifs, buts, exceptions and anomalies, but if you think this might be of use to your customers or staff, feel free to share this post around as you see fit.

Here’s a selection of the producers from our portfolio who are most famed for their high-altitude winemaking:

 

Old World

DOMAINE DES TOURELLES, Bekaa, Lebanon

CANTINE NICOSIA, Sicily, Italy

DOMINIO DE ATAUTA, Ribera del Duero, Spain

BODEGAS BORSAO, Rioja, Spain

BODEGAS ONTAÑÓN, Rioja, Spain

GOMEZ CRUZADO, Rioja, Spain

COMPAÑIA BODEGUERA DE VALENCISO, Rioja, Spain

BODEGAS JUAN GIL, Jumilla, Spain

New World

VIÑA TABALÍ, Chile

CADUS, Uco Valley, Argentina

NIETO SENETINER, Mendoza, Argentina

EL PORVENIR DE CAFAYATE, Valle de Cafayate, Argentina