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What's the big deal about wines made at high altitudes?

You will often hear people talk about ‘High-altitude wines' and grapes from high-altitude vineyards; but what is the big deal about this statement, and why does it matter? 

What difference does the altitude of a vineyard make to the wine to you eventually drink?

Firstly, ‘high-altitude' can be a relative term, depending on where you are in the wine world.

After all, almost everything in South America is unbelievably high compared to vineyards in the Old World regions of Europe. Generally, anything over 500m above sea level in Europe seems to qualify as high-altitude, whereas those in the New World regions of Argentina, Chile, South Africa etc reckon 1,200m is probably a more sensible starting point. But, the principles still apply.

So, you wRoca Madre Malbecill have heard us talk (or write) in the past about how grapes grown in cooler climates ripen more slowly, which produces wines that generally tend to have lower alcohol and higher acidity.  You may have heard us talk about Diurnal range, which is the difference between day and night temperatures, this as well as the often rocky soils, will give you lighter, fresher wines with plenty of minerality.  It said that for every 100 metres you go up, the average temperature drops by roughly 1°C. See Sarah's blog and video from her recent trip to Chile and the high-altitude vineyards of Tabali  to see what we mean. The Roca Madre Malbec (to the left) is a must try high altitude wine, grown high up in the Andes and at 1600m above sea level it is one of the highest vineyards in Latin America. 

The other important thing with altitude is the big effect on winemaking that climate change continues to have around the world. As a result 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.

So, how different do high-altitude wines taste? Well, 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.Tres Picos Garnacha

Garnacha (or Grenache Noir) is a great example of a grape that thrives in these conditions so try Tres Picos Garnacha from Bodegas Borsao in the region of Campo de Borja, Spain.

Vines have to work hard at altitude, and hard-working vines are well known to produce less grapes, but of much higher quality, this really shows in the wines.

So, now you kow a little bit more about high-altitude wines, why not pop into the shop and ask us about them.


Better still, come to our Big Annual Tasting on Friday 15th Nov 2-8pm and Saturday 16th November 10am-3pm, or check out our Festive Offers which are now live!

Last Updated: 07/11/2019
Author: Sean Driscoll

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