Mostly I think that it is common knowledge there are benefits to growing vines on a slope as opposed to flat ground. But we have access to more wines than ever before and with them come wines of high altitude. They are as varied as the regions they come from but certainly provide quality when they can ripen fruit.
We get richer wines from the areas of Napa and Mendoza, with the cool nights afforded by the height allowing for a longer growing season, achieving full phenolic ripeness without as much alcohol.
New studies suggest that there is more tannin being extracted with the more direct UV exposure, ripening the pips and causing thicker skins, both adding to the tannins of the wines.
Mendoza has lead the charge and studies in high elevation wines. Many Mendoza vineyards are at or above 3,000 feet, dwarfing the not insignificant vineyard of Napa’s Howell Mountain (reaching up to 2,000 feet). This certainly adds some depth to the sometimes simple Malbecs.
But now we can find wines of great heights coming from Europe too, and I think they offer beautiful and unique expressions that are worth seeking out.
Regions to look for:
- Mount Etna (2,300 feet) – The volcano on Sicily has become a home to a great breadth of expressions of Nerello Mascalese.
- Valle de Aosta (4,000 feet) – In Northwestern Italy, these wines are light and bright and offer delicious food friendly options.
- Canary Islands (5,000 feet) – An oft overlooked region of Spanish wine which can be hard to find but worth ferreting out.
Don’t get frustrated if you have trouble finding these wines. They aren’t easy to find but are available, and finding new wines to try is half the fun. Keep exploring!