Do you know what high altitude wine is?

landshut castle
Landshut Castle (Moselle). Photo by Reiner C.

If we stop to think, the high altitude wine would be all that exceeds sea level to a greater or lesser extent. Without going into too much technical appreciation, we will say that altitude, latitude, is also involved. Both in the north and in the south, the degrees of latitude oscillate between 30º and 50º with some exceptions. The proximity of the sea, longitudinally speaking or the topography are also determining factors in addition to the height. But let’s go back to altitude.

It must be said that there are very exceptional things in this sense, since we can find vineyards below sea level and above 3,500, but the usual thing is that they are around between 0 and 2,000.

According to an unwritten rule, those wines that grow from 500 (others say 800) meters above sea level are considered high altitude wines. Here, in Spain, we have (or so we say) the highest vineyards in Europe. And how does this influence the wine?

Well, the higher the altitude, the lower the temperature basically. If we take into account that it drops by one degree every hundred meters, we will see that a wine at a thousand meters can have an oscillation of almost 10º in some cases. This will have to do with maturation, aeration, pH, sugars… all those things that are taken into account in wines and that, in high altitude wines, make them fresher, with more acidity and generally , more long-lived.

Sil canyons
Sil canyons (Ribeira Sacra). Photo by mmedp.

I give you some examples of high altitude wines from here. We start with Castell d’Encus, in Lleida and close to the Pyrenees. They make wines in medieval mills in the living rock of the mountain. If we go towards Huesca, we find Bal Minuta, in the Aragonese Pyrenees. Here, as in the previous one, the varieties are decisive when acclimatizing. If we go to the Region of Murcia, Alto de Inazares also produces wines above 1,300 meters. To close these examples, we go to the Alpujarra of Granada to find La Divisa where they work with organic wines in a new generation of winemakers who are committed to the terroir, the climate and the production of unique wines.

We could not finish this article without mentioning the wines of the DO Ribeira Sacra, the greatest exponent of mountain wines in Spain since, year after year, it is the Spanish designation of origin, and one of the regions in the world that has received the most awards in the largest international event of this modality, which is held annually in Aosta (Italy). It could not be less if we take into account the high quality of the wines from this Galician area in which wines are not only produced at altitudes above 500 m, but also on slopes of up to 30º inclination through the so-called “viticulture heroica” for the difficult conditions to which their vineyards are subjected in the steep mountains.

javier field
Sommelier and wine writer

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