The Heights and Lows of Wine
Altitude is one of those wine terms you hear a lot and that sounds important, but no one seems to bother to explain why it actually matters. So, let's fix that and understand how altitude influences a wine and why you should care!
The Impact of Altitude on Grapes
Vineyards can be located anywhere from sea level to over a mile high, and this diversity in height can lead to vast differences in wine.
Altitude plays a crucial role in shaping the flavours, aromas, and overall quality of grapes, which ultimately influence the wine produced. Here are some key ways in which altitude impacts grapes:
- Climate: As you ascend to higher altitudes, the climate tends to become cooler due to reduced temperatures. This prolonged growing season allows grapes to develop more complex flavours and aromas, resulting in wines with heightened character and nuance.
- Sun Exposure: At higher altitudes, grapes receive more direct sunlight. While this can enhance the grape's ability to produce sugars and develop ripe flavours, it also necessitates a defence mechanism. The grape's response is to develop thicker skins, which contribute to wines with more colour, structure, and tannins.
- Acidity: Cool temperatures at high altitudes help grapes retain higher levels of acidity. This natural acidity lends balance and freshness to wines, making them lively and vibrant on the palate.
So what does that mean for the wine? Wines made from grapes grown at higher altitudes tend to reflect a few key traits:
- Climate: Cooler temperatures and increased diurnal temperature variation create longer, slower ripening periods, enhancing complexity and preserving acidity.
- Flavour Profile: Expect wines with vibrant fruit flavours, floral notes, and an array of secondary characteristics, such as herbs, minerality, and spice.
- Structure and Elegance: The combination of higher acidity and thicker skins results in wines with excellent structure, well-integrated tannins, and ageing potential.
- Balanced Alcohol: The extended growing season allows grapes to accumulate sugars gradually, resulting in wines with fuller, “bigger” flavours without higher alcohol levels that usually go hand-in-hand with those kinds of flavour profiles.
In contrast, wines grown at lower altitudes may show a range of different traits:
- Climate: Low-altitude regions often experience warmer temperatures, resulting in riper grapes with higher sugar levels.
- Flavor Profile: These wines tend to be fruit-forward, with pronounced flavours of ripe fruits like berries, stone fruits, and tropical notes.
- Body and Alcohol: Warmer climates promote sugar accumulation, leading to fuller-bodied wines with higher alcohol content.
- Softer Acidity: Lower acidity levels provide a rounder and smoother mouthfeel.
It’s not that higher or lower altitude is “better” than the other, they’re just different! So, the next time you're swirling a glass of wine, consider the journey that wine has taken, not just across the globe, but also the heights it has scaled. Altitude in winemaking is just another testament to the beauty and complexity of the wine world. It shapes our favourite wines in subtle yet significant ways, offering us a diverse array of flavours to explore.
Keep tuned to our blog for more fascinating insights into the world of wine, and remember: every bottle has a story, and every sip is a taste of that story. Maybe check out a few in our shop.