By Lorcan O'Brien | Wine & Communications Manager
With storms Ciara and Dennis now in the rear-view mirror, hopefully we can start casting our minds towards milder weather and more outdoor pursuits. For me that means a lot more hill walking and hiking in the Cooley Peninsula.
Although plenty high enough to meet my needs, even Slieve Foy, the highest point in the Cooley Mountains pales into insignificance compared to some of the true rooftop mountains of the world. And for many winemakers, these mountain ranges are the very thing that makes viticulture possible. So, what's so special about altitude and why does it make a difference to wine?
Towering Argentine Malbec
Altitude has a number of significant effects on a grapevine that may help, or hinder, the growth of high quality grapes. As a rough rule of thumb, with every 100m we climb the temperature drops by about 0.6°C. This means that at latitudes that would otherwise be too hot to successfully grow grapes, conditions are cool enough for viticulture on mountainous sites.
Many of the towering vineyards in Argentina, located high in the Andes Mountains, can only exist because of this cooling effect. As the air is so thin, the heat of the day is quickly lost, cooling the grapes at night. This swing in day-to-night temperature is known as the 'Diurnal' effect and helps to cool the grapes and retain freshness and acidity. However, the thinner air will mean more exposure to UV radiation from the sun, so the grapes are often protected from sunburn by using the leaves of the canopy to shade the precious fruit.
Casa de Uco is located in the Uco Valley of Mendoza, 1300m up into the Argentine Andes. At this altitude the climate is arid, with sparse rainfall. This lack of moisture means vine disease pressures are minimal, making organic viticulture more attractive. El Salvaje Organico is an unoaked and certified organic Malbec. It is fresher and more vibrant than many examples of Mendoza Malbecs, with juicy bramble fruit flavours and fine smooth tannins that would pair wonderfully with a good Irish fillet steak.
Sicily is one of the most southerly points in Europe with summer temperatures often soaring over 40°C. At this extreme temperature vines shut down and grapes stop ripening. To combat the heat, the best Sicilian vineyards are planted at altitude. As well as milder temperatures, this altitude catches the cooling Tamontane breeze that blows in off the Mediterranean, cooling the grapes and retaining their freshness.
Although Sicily is better known Cusumano Shamaris is made from Grillo grapes grown at 400m altitude on northwest-facing slopes. At this altitude the vineyards benefit from cooling sea breezes in the height of summer. The orientation of the vineyards also has a huge benefit, as the vines are facing away from the direct rays of the sun, ensuring a long, balanced ripening of the fruit.
There are many other factors that mountains can have on grape growing: soil composition, water retention/drainage etc. So, drop into your local O'Briens Wine, where our friendly staff will help you on a journey from Priorat in Spain to the Santa Lucia Highlands in California. Explore the mountain ranges of the world without leaving the comfort of your own home!
*Please note, prices are correct at time of publishing. Please check our website or in-store for the most up-to-date pricing.