Getting High With Wine
We're going to get high for this post. 10,200 feet above sea level to be exact. Wait, I'm talking about altitude - what were you thinking of?
Argentina is one of my favorite wine regions to talk about because without altitude, it would be nearly impossible to grow grapes in the hot, dry, semi-arid climate. Vineyards are planted near and in the foothills of the Andes mountains where they can benefit from the elevation, which decreases the overall temperature and exposes the vines to a more intense sunlight. Many producers also use natural irrigation from rivers and melting snow flowing down the mountains. It's like an oasis in the middle of the desert; perfect for winemaking!
As altitude increases, the red wines will typically progress from full-bodied with a ripe black fruit character to a more elegant, fresher style of wine with a red fruit and floral character. White wines will also have an increasingly fresher style and crisp, pure fruit aromas and flavors. Mendoza is the largest wine region in Argentina, as well as one of the largest in the world. Malbec is the most widely grown grape in the region, but Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah also do quite well here. Mendoza has three important subregions that vary in altitude, so the style of their wines are quite different:
Maipu: 2000 to 2500 feet
Lujan de Cuyo: 2950 to 3600 feet
Uco Valley (Valle de Uco): 3000 to 4700 feet
I tasted Zuccardi Serie A Malbec 2014 from the Uco Valley. It showed really nice notes of rose, plum, cranberry, black cherry, chocolate, and cinnamon and had a succulent texture. The wine was refined, with well structured tannins and acidity, and had a long finish. I'm picky when it comes to Malbec and I thought this was delicious - and a banging value at $15 if you ask me!
Another staple wine of Argentina is Torrontes. It's a perfumed, aromatic white wine that is rather unique. I tried one from the same producer as the Malbec - the Zuccardi Serie A Torrontes 2014. It's from the Salta Province of Argentina, which is the highest wine region in the world with vineyards planted between 5700 and 10,200 feet! The high sunlight intensity and the cool temperatures provided by the altitude create wines that are high in acidity with fresh and fully developed flavors. This Torrontes was quite aromatic with notes of grapefruit, passion fruit, grass, citrus peel, white peach, and some floral notes. It was high in acidity as expected and showed pleasantly bitter citrus notes of grapefruit and orange, with the floral and passion fruit flavors coming through on the finish. I really enjoyed this one and it's a great example of wines made with the Torrontes grape. Another very good value at $15.
See for yourself how great a role altitude plays in the style of your wine - try a Malbec from each of Mendoza's subregions for starters, or if you're a super nerd like me, pick any wine region and research the elevation of various producer's vineyards (or ask someone in your local wine store) and taste through the same grape variety from one extreme to another. What better way to get familiar with the science behind wine than to taste it for yourself, right? I'll make wine nerds out of you yet, my dear readers :)