Many wines nowadays carry the phrase “high-altitude wine” on the label. Some may see this as a phrase for marketing pourposes to sell more bottles. But what is altitude in wine and why it could become more and more important?
What effect does altitude have on wine, and what difference does it make?
The European Centre for Research, Environmental Sustainability and Advancement of Mountain Viticulture (CERVIM) has tried to define the term, allowing the use of the naming for vineyards that are a minimum of 500 metres above sea level. In Europe, 500 metres would seem pretty high, while in Argentina 500 metres is considered low since most vineyards in the Mendoza region are planted between 600 and 1,100 metres above sea level, so there is a bit of confusion on what qualifies as high-altitude.
The climate we can find in high alittutude areas can be very beneficial to some wines, since winters are longer and there is a bigger temperature difference between day and night during the spring-summer season. These aspects slow down the maturation of the grapes. It means that more precursors for fruit aromas and flavors will accumulate, it will help to preserve acidity, generally offering fresher and more aromatic wines, and the tannins will be able to ripen better as the process of maturation take longer.
Is climate change going to be a problem for wine?
Climate change is an iminent fenomena that is happening infront of our eyes and will not only affect the ice caps. It will greatly influence the cutlivation of many products around the world like coffee, cocoa, and yes, even wine.
Winemakers fighting againt the climate change and gobal warming found an option planting vineyards in higher altitude areas as today the temperatures are increasing every year. Higher temperatures mean that the grape ripens earlier and sometimes can become faultily. The sugars concentrate much faster and the tannins don’t ripen fast enough, so the wines are incomplete, with greenish flavours and a less elegant acidity.
The solution for hotter wine producing areas is to move to higher places in the mountains, so the vines are in a cooler environment that allows the grapes to be kept on the plant for longer and delay the harvest.
This is even a more important aspect when moving closer to the equator. The closer you are, the warmer the average annual temperature will be, so the importance for higher altitudes is even more crucial there.
What can you expect in taste from a high-altitude wine?
Expect a lot of freshness and flavour complexity. These wines will have excellent levels of acidity for aging, that’s why it will be interesting to keep them for some years and wait to see their real potential later on.