Vinous Oddities: Wines with Altitude

The rather clever heading is not original. I spotted it on a cap worn by the marketing manager of Peregrine Wines (tastings) in Central Otago. Central Otago, if you need reminding, is New Zealand’s highest wine region. It’s also the world’s most southerly wine region despite inaccurate boasts by wine producers in Patagonia.

Does altitude make a difference? Other things being equal the temperature gets cooler by 0.6oC with every rise of 100 metres. That may not seem much although it does mean that Central Otago’s altitude of 200-450 metres drops the temperatures by 1.2 – 2.7 oC. Cooler temperatures tend to make fruitier, brighter wines with higher acidity.

The world’s highest vineyards can be found in Mexico (up to 2450 metres), Argentina (up to 2376 metres) and Bolivia (up to 2500 metres) although a small new vineyard near Nepal beats them all with a 2750 metre-high vineyard, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine. In each case altitude allows grapevines to be grown successfully – definitely not the case if they were planted at sea level.

Climate change is already having a significant effect on the wines from many of the world’s most successful wine regions, particularly in the northern hemisphere. Winemakers may need to adapt by planting grape varieties better suited to a warmer climate. Or they could head for the hills.

First published in KiaOra Magazine – Apr 2010.

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