“High altitude” has become a buzz word in the world of fine wine in the past few years. Many producers are now promoting their vines, planted at breathtaking heights above sea level. But how does altitude impact the wine and what element does it add to your favourite beverage? Altitude wines decrypted.

Let start the journey in Argentina which is one the country with the highest vineyards in the world. When talking about high elevation, keep in mind that it is always in relation with the norms of the given region. For example, vines are considered to be very ‘high altitude’ at over 1,000 meters in Mendoza and at over 1,800 meters in Salta.

What does a high altitude bring to the wine?

Temperature: In warmer climates, high altitude is a positive element as temperatures drop significantly at night (high diurnal range). This means that the grapes ripen well in the warm sunshine during the day, but cool night temperatures will concentrate the sugars and retain the acids. Resulting wines will have ripe fruit aromas but never overly jammy.

Drainage: Altitude vineyards are mostly on slopes, meaning good natural drainage. This means that there is water scarcity, vines are in hydric stress so their roots will go deeper. A significant amount of their energy goes into this, so they grow less berries which in return, have more character and concentration. Also, with deeper roots, soil and terroir is more apparent in the final wine.

Sunlight: The higher the altitude, the more intense the sunshine in terms of UV. More UV means the grapes will develop darker, thicker skins as the grape protects itself from sunburn. Thicker skins mean greater structure, character and concentration.

Growing vines in altitude come with a lot of additional difficulties. The resulting wines however, will have character, intense flavours, good tannins and uplifting acidity: the perfect mix for a perfect wine!

Our recommendation – Clos de los Siete 2015 from Uco Valley, Argentina

An unprecedented challenge and a unique, novel concept: 850 hectares of vines, 4 bodegas run by 4 passionate Bordeaux families, 1 single wine named “Clos de los Siete”. With vineyards located at 1100 meter above sea level, on the foothills of the Andes Mountains, not far from Mendoza, Argentina’s wine capital, Michel Rolland mastered altitude wine-growing through his passion and curiosity.

Dominantly made from Argentina’s flagship grape, Malbec (58%), this wine is a fine representation of altitude wine.

It shows aromas of violet, red and black fruits (ripe plum, bramble) and spicy notes. On the palate, the wine is fleshy, full bodied and well balance with tannic structure and a long finish, promising good ageing potential. Subtle hints of oak add to the complexity and elegance of this wine.

It is the perfect partner for the typical chilli con carne.

* Robert Parker: 90 pts *

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