When I saw ‘High Mountain Vines’ on a wine label, my first thought was ‘How High?’ There was nothing to tell me on the bottle, but a quick check of the producer’s website gave me the answer: Catena’s Cabernet Sauvignon (Majestic, £12.99) is made from grapes grown in 4 different vineyards in Argentina’s Mendoza region, the lowest of which is 3100 feet (950 metres) above sea level and the highest 4750 feet (1450 metres). To put that in context, Britain’s highest mountain is Ben Nevis at 4400 feet (1350m) – and you won’t find any vineyards on top of Ben Nevis!
Catena aren’t alone among Argentinian producers in choosing to plant their vines at such an extreme altitude. The whole of the Mendoza vineyard area lies between 2300 and 4600ft (700 – 1400m), heights at which most European growers would say it was impossible to ripen grapes. But Argentina’s vineyards are far closer to the equator than most Northern Hemisphere sites – around latitudes of 32 – 33ᵒ S where conditions at sea level would be far too hot and dry for high quality wines. Their solution: head up into the foothills of the Andes Mountains around Mendoza. And, judging by the wines coming out of there, it has proved to be a great success.
The Catena Cabernet Sauvignon was rather ‘closed’ (not offering much on either nose or palate) when I first drew the cork during a wine course I was running but, at home, a couple of hours later and decanted, it showed lovely black fruits and spice, a really succulent mouthful that went very well with some Spaghetti Bolognese. I suppose, with an Argentinian wine, we should have paired it with some prime steak – oh, well! That would have been a good match, too.
Finally, for any record hunters among you, the highest commercial vineyard in the world is thought to be in Argentina’s Molinos sub-region, and sits at an altitude of 10206ft (3100m). Or does anyone know of a higher planting?