Colin Burbidge, of Lancashire Wine School, writes about the world’s highest vineyard
You’ve probably read a description of a wine somewhere, perhaps in a magazine or on the back label, and wondered why they are so careful to tell you what altitude the vineyards are at.
An important fact in all of this is that average temperature falls by one degree celsius with every 600 metres in rising elevation.
Cool temperatures, especially at night, give all-important rising acidity in the grapes, and therefore the wine. Wine without acidity is flat or flabby, lacking the refreshing, mouth-watering sensation.
Altitude for vineyards is much sought after in hot countries. The world’s highest vineyard, according to the Guinness Book of Records, is in Tibet. The “Pure Land & Super-high altitude vineyard” in Cai Na Xiang, Tibet, at 3,563.31 metres above sea level was officially recognised in September 2018 as the world’s highest.
In more familiar wine territory, Argentina cultivates vines at impressive heights. The Colomé estate’s Altura Maxima vineyard in Argentina’s Salta region stands at an impressive 3,100 metres above sea level.
Cultivating at this altitude not only brings the benefits of cooler temperatures but often poorer soils. The poor soils mean the vineyard investors aren’t competing on land price with other food producers. The climate is often drier than at lower ‘mid-range’ altitudes, reducing the risk of mildews and rots due to damp weather, and the poor stony soils offer good drainage.
High altitude viticulture is not without its problems. Summer hail can be a particular risk, with large balls of ice ripping through the vineyard foliage, reducing the photosynthesis needed to produce sugars in the grape.
At high altitude there is a greater volume of ultra-
violet rays from sunlight which may lead to skin burn on the grapes. Some viticulturalists have reported high-altitude grapes developing thicker skins to protect themselves. This can lead to unacceptably higher tannin levels in red wines so the wine maker needs to make adjustments.
Of course, high-altitude brings the logistical problems of getting supplies in and getting your wine out to the waiting thirsty world!
Argentina is best known for its Malbec red wines. At lower altitudes the wines tend to have fleshy ripe fruit characteristics, while the high-altitude wines demonstrate greater structure with biting acidity and grippy tannins.
Many of the best Malbecs are blended from wines produced from vineyards at different altitudes, resulting in wines that combine those characteristics.
Try these two to compare the different characteristics influenced by altitude. Catena Malbec, sourced from high-altitude vineyards,
offers typical Malbec intense aromas, soft texture, concentrated flavours of ripe red and dark fruits with vanilla. You’ll notice the mouth-
watering acidity of this wine.
The Malbec Reserva from Viñalba is sourced from vineyards at the foot of the Andes, grown at different altitudes to achieve balance. Here we have plum and raspberry jam aromas with vanilla. A well-balanced wine, still refreshing but when tasted side by side with Catena is slightly less mouth-watering.
The “Pure Land & Super-high altitude vineyard” plan to offer wine tourism, see you there soon!