High-Altitude Wines

Wines produced from mountain-grown grapes are the result of a special magic that occurs between soil and sky.

Wines produced from mountain-grown grapes are the result of a special magic that occurs between soil and sky.

Mountains impose unique conditions for winegrowing, and like the term “cool-climate,” “altitude” is a new buzzword in the world of wine.Mountain vineyards tend to be rugged and exposed, often with thin, nutrient-deficient soils that cause vines to struggle. But in wine, a little hardship can be a very good thing. Stress forces vines to send their roots deeper, producing fewer bunches of grapes with smaller berries that deliver greater concentration of flavour. Altitude also brings amplified sunlight intensity for more ripening energy, and thicker skins with more colour and tannins. The result is a more mature fruit with greater complexity.Slopes, too, provide an advantage to grape growing that the ancients noticed millenniums ago: both air and water flow down slopes, keeping roots well drained (which is essential) while down-draft breezes cool the vines. In hot regions like Argentina, nighttime baths of fresh air keep acids bright and put the brakes on premature ripening.Growers in Argentina, Australia, and Sicily are increasingly seeking the cooling effects of high-altitude vineyards to sharpen acids and intensify fruit. Here are four lovely examples of their efforts, all imbued with the special magic of the mountains.

$18.49The mile-high tilted plateau of Cafayate, Argentina, is home to the world’s loftiest vineyards. Torrontés vines ripen slowly at 1,800 metres above sea level, developing intense gardenia perfume and stone-fruit flavours on a rich, waxy palate with sizzling acidity.

$19.99Cool sunshine bathes chardonnay vines grown at 500 to 800 metres, at the western edge of Australia’s Snowy Mountains. Aromas of lemon oil, vanilla, and brown butter introduce a rich yet tense palate of citrus curd and spicy oak.

$21.79Wines produced from malbec grapes are perfect for crisp weather, and offer more flavour and style diversity than you might think. Although a French grape, malbec found an ideal home in the sunny, lofty, arid climate of Argentina’s Andean foothills. Argentina is currently the world’s main producer of malbec, with more than 76,000 acres of vineyards planted across the country. (France, where malbec features in the region of Cahors, runs a distant second at just over 13,000 acres.)The beautiful Catena winery in Mendoza pioneered the growing of malbec in Argentina, most importantly at high elevations. No producer in the world has contributed more to the study of the effect of altitude on grapes. Malbec grown at four distinct altitudes (spanning 920 to 1,450 metres) in the Andean foothills brings intense red, black, and blue fruit flavours, along with a powerful mineral frame, supple tannins, and crisp acidity. Fruit-forward but with wonderful freshness and harmonious balance, you can relax with a generous glass, or drink it as the Argentines would, with grilled steak and zesty chimichurri sauce.

$86.99In mineral-rich soils born of Mount Etna’s persistent explosions, near-centenarian nerello mascalese vines cling to 900-metre-high terraces. This is mesmerizing wine with a smoky, floral fragrance, wild strawberry flavour, and a long finish.