Surprisingly, they are frequently given less prominence on winegrowers’ priority lists in comparison to factors such as terroir, weather, and rainfall. However, due to the influence of global warming, winemakers are now placing importance on hillsides and mountains when evaluating potential vineyard sites for planting vines.
The Andes Cordillera, often referred to simply as the Andes, is a vast mountain range that runs along the entire western coast of South America. It extends over 4,000 miles, from Colombia in the north, through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, all the way to Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of the continent. This mountain range is not only the longest in the world but is also the highest outside of the Himalayas, making it a prominent geographical feature in the region.
The Andes Cordillera has a significant influence on wine production in South America, particularly in countries like Argentina and Chile. Here’s how the Andes Cordillera and wine are connected:
1. Altitude: The Andes mountains provide a range of altitudes, from sea level to over 6,900 meters (approximately 22,637 feet). This vast altitude variation creates diverse microclimates that are favorable for grape cultivation. In particular, higher altitudes are becoming increasingly popular for vineyards because they offer cooler temperatures, which help to preserve acidity in the grapes and slow down the ripening process. This leads to the production of high-quality wines with balanced acidity.
2. Climate: The Andes act as a natural barrier to weather patterns, helping to create unique climate conditions in the wine regions located along their foothills. The mountains contribute to temperature regulation, providing cooler nights and milder daytime temperatures, which are advantageous for grape ripening. This climate moderation results in wines with better balance and complexity.
3. Water Source: The Andes Mountains are a vital source of freshwater for millions of people in South America. For the wine industry, this means that access to water for irrigation is readily available, even in arid and semi-arid regions. This is essential for the sustainability of vineyards, as water is crucial for grapevine growth and grape quality.
4. Terroir: The diverse soils and altitudes in the Andes region contribute to the concept of terroir, which encompasses the unique environmental factors that influence the characteristics of wine. The Andes’ various soil types, including alluvial, sandy, clay, gravel, and limestone, play a role in shaping the flavor and quality of the grapes and, consequently, the wines.
5. Wine Quality: The combination of high-altitude vineyards, varied microclimates, and unique terroirs makes the Andes Cordillera a prime location for producing high-quality wines. Both Argentina and Chile have experienced a surge in the quality and recognition of their wines, thanks in part to their vineyards situated in the shadow of the Andes.
In My Opinion
At a recent White Wines of the Andes event in New York City, directed by Joaquin Hidalgo, I found the following wines most interesting:
1. 2021 Chardonnay Amelia, Concha y Toro. Northern Chile
The Amelia brand started in 1993 as a tribute to all the women who have pushed boundaries (think Amelia Earhart and Jane Goodall), and was named after winemaker Marcel Papa’s wife, Amelia. This wine is Chile’s first Ultra-Premium Chardonnay.
The Quebrada Seca Vineyard is located 22 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean on the northern bank of the Limari River. The vineyard has been developed at an altitude of 190 meters above sea level with clay soils that are rich in calcium carbonate. The temperatures are cold and the mornings are cloudy, allowing the fruit to ripen slowly producing fresh wines.
Grapes are hand-harvested and grapes are selected on a conveyor belt that takes whole clusters to the press without destemming. Fermentation occurs in French oak barrels and alcoholic fermentation lasts 8 days. Wine is aged for 12 months in French oak barrels (10 percent new and 90 percent second use). Best consumed within the next 8 years.
Clean and bright light yellow to the eye the crystalline appearance contradicts its complex and multi-layered bouquet. It is complex and layered to the nose with aromas of white flowers, pears, and minerality and combines the structure of the red clay (provides body) with the minerality of the limestone soil (provides backbone). Long, tense, and refreshing with a long impression on the palate and a long finish highlighted with delightful salinity.
2. 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Talinay, Tabali
The sharp and austere 2022 Talinay Sauvignon Blanc is a wonderful white from Chile. It is always bottled unoaked to keep the varietal purity and the influence of the limestone soils and the proximity to the sea. It has 13% alcohol and incredible parameters—a pH of 2.96 and 8.38 grams of acidity. The wines are produced from vines planted in 2006 in Talinay where the soils have more limestone and the sea influence is stronger.
Elegantly clear and translucent in appearance, the wine releases an aroma that feels as crisp and rejuvenating as a spring breeze. The nose is delighted with the smell of lush green grass, wet rocks, and an earthy invigorating fragrance. The palate finds herbaceous notes mingled with subtle hints of citrus fruit enhanced by a gentle hint of sea salt, creating a sensory tapestry that is enchanting.
The wine journey is enhanced by vibrant acidity, infusing the entire palate with an invigorating freshness. In every sip, the taste buds are enlivened and this refreshing sensation lingers long after the last drop.