You will often hear us talking about altitude when describing some of the wines in our portfolio; but what difference does it make and, most importantly, what effect does it have on the wines?
Grapes grown in hot regions ripen faster than those from cooler places, developing more sugar which in turn means more alcohol. In contrast, grapes grown in cool regions achieve higher acidity and lower sugar and alcohol levels.
In Burgundy, winemakers discovered centuries ago that grapes grown on the hillsides made wine with more elegance and freshness than those from the valley floors, hence the Grand Cru and Premier Cru classifications. More recently, growers all over the world have been exploring and ultimately moving plantings to higher levels. This is partly due to a shift in customer demand, from heavy, high alcohol styles to those with more delicacy and less alcohol. It is also a response to climate change which has seen temperatures rise across the world.
There is an environmental factor too. Higher altitude vineyards have colder, drier winters, which reduces the vines’ risk of disease. Demand for organic and sustainable production continues to grow so wineries can reduce the need for spraying chemicals by turning their attention to more elevated, breezy sites.
Why does altitude matter?
Very simply, the higher you go, the more average temperature drops, falling by about 0.6 degrees centigrade with every 100-metre rise above sea level. Vineyards at high altitudes are also exposed to more hours of sunlight than those at lower levels. The diurnal range (the difference between day and night temperatures) increases the higher you go, which means the grapes undergo a longer, more even ripening period, leading to more balanced and fresher wines.
At very high altitudes, such as in Argentina’s Andean vineyards, the vines are subject to intense sunlight, especially UV-B radiation. This gives grapes more antioxidants and thicker skins, resulting in more colour, greater flavour intensity and longer ageing ability too.
Also, vine roots that struggle to find water and nutrients produce grapes with better concentration. The stony soils found on slopes at high altitude allow water to drain away faster – another factor, helping to produce complex wines.
Argentina: the home of high-altitude wine
The country most associated with high altitude wines must be Argentina. In most Old-World wine regions, 600 metres to 800m above sea level is considered high. In Argentina, altitude is measured on a completely different scale. A large proportion of the country’s vines are now grown above 1,000m, with some vineyards planted as high as 3,300m. This altitude is the key factor influencing the style of Argentine wines, which are generally high in tannins, firm yet supple and able to age.
Award-winning high-altitude wines to try
Two regions of Argentina have become particularly well known for their extreme altitude: the northern provinces of Salta and the Uco Valley, to the west of Mendoza. It is here, in the Tupungato sub-region, where Domaine Bousquet are now crafting some sensational, high altitude wines.
The Domaine Bousquet story is a fascinating one. Originally from Carcassonne in France, it only took a holiday to Argentina in 1990 for Jean Bousquet to see Mendoza’s potential for making superb wines. After a seven year search for his ideal vineyard site, he bought his first parcel of land and began a journey towards establishing Domaine Bousquet as one of the country’s most respected producers.
Jean Bousquet’s chosen site, the Gualtallary Valley is a scenic, remote, arid terrain high in the Tupungato district of the Uco Valley in Argentina’s Mendoza region, close to the border with Chile. With altitudes up to 5,249ft, it occupies some of the highest extremes of Mendoza’s viticultural limits. Today, the wine world recognises the area as the source of some of Mendoza’s finest wines. Back then, it was virgin territory: tracts of semi-desert, nothing planted, no water above ground, no electricity and a single dirt track by way of access. Locals dismissed the area as too cold for growing grapes. Bousquet, on the other hand, reckoned he had found the perfect blend between his French homeland and the New World.
Today, as fourth generation winemakers, Domaine Bousquet continue to combine traditional French winemaking techniques with Mendoza’s ideal high altitude winegrowing conditions. Their constant search to achieve optimum ripeness allows them to create wines that boast delicious fruit character with ripe tannins and high acidity. The family are also passionate about organic winemaking and all Domaine Bousquet wines are certified both organic and vegan. We highly recommend that you try them.
On the nose, bright blackcurrant, raspberry and cassis with hints of violets, figs, chocolate and tobacco. Soft and round tannins, great texture on the palate with refreshing acidity. Received 92pts from Tim Atkin MW and 91pts from James Suckling.
Ripe blueberry, cassis, dried herbs, leather, warm spices and savoury. Rich on the palate, with a smooth texture and soft tannins. Great acidity, refreshing on the palate. Received 92pts from Tim Atkin MW.
Great combination of citrus, nectarine, pineapple and vanilla on the nose. Full-bodied on the palate, with ripe tropical notes coming through, elegant hint of butter from the oak with a refreshing acidity and creamy finish. Received 91pts from James Suckling.
Dense, rich and sweet. On the nose, notes of ripe black cherry, blackcurrant, warm spices, chocolate and anise. On the palate sweet and silky with blackberry compote, dark plum and coffee. Received 90pts from Wines & Spirits.
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