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Mar 24, 2020

High altitude wines are often discussed in the wine world, but what REALLY defines high altitude? There are a lot of features that would make a region qualify but the keys to determining “high elevation” are latitude and altitude and their cross section. At lower latitudes, elevations are way higher than at higher latitudes. Places at elevation share characteristics like cool nighttime temperatures, dryness (no mold or disease), later harvest dates, a good amount of wind, and higher levels of UV radiation.  


Among other things, we discuss this study (BMC Plant Biol. 2014; 14: 183. which discusses the genetic adaptation and metabolic changes that happen in high altitude grapes.


Source: Catena Zapata, Adrianna Vineyard -- Mendoza, Argentina

The upshot: thicker skins that protect against the heat of the day and the cool of the night produce wines with greater body, flavor and aromatics. Wines can be lower or higher in alcohol depending on the latitude, but the similarity of these grapes is that they taste like fresh, newly picked fruit becuase of the fresh acidity retained because of cooler temperatures at night, wind, and the long growing season.


We mention some examples of these vineyard areas. In Europe, we mention:

  • Val d’Aosta in Italy, below Mont Blanc in Alps
  • Dolomites in Alto Adige
  • Tenerife in the Canary Islands
  • Etna in Sicily
  • Armenia
  • I also refer to Switzerland and Jura and Savoie in France (although these French regions are not quite as high as the other regions we discuss)


In the New World

  • In the US, specifically Fox Fire Farms in Ignacio, Colorado (6,500 ft!)
  • Some of the world’s highest vineyards in South America:
    • Colomé Altura Máxima, in the province of Salta, Argentina at 3,011m/9,878 ft
    • In the JuJuy province of Argentina is the Quebrada de Humahuaca GI at 3,329m/ 10,922 feet above sea level, Claudio Zucchino makes his famed Uraqui blend
    • We mention Mendoza, Argentina
  • In South Africa, Mount Sutherland is at 1,500 m/4,921 ft


After some discussion, we conclude that “higher” does not automatically mean “better” and that although altitude is short hand for a fresh wine, unless it’s on a slope and at elevation, you can’t always rely on that heuristic!


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