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The ideal range of climates and terrains in which wine grapevines (vitis vinifera) are able to survive are located for the most part within two geographical bands, roughly 30 degrees latititude to 50 degrees latitude, both south and north of the equator. There are exceptions, but few, and, in fact, one of the regions featured in this wine club is just at the cusp, at 25 degrees, which brings us to our theme of high altitude wines, because part of what enables this particular microclimate in Argentina to exist is the altitude at which the vineyards are situated. Although high altitude climates and conditions are varied, there are general factors that they have in common: lower temperatures, higher ultraviolet radiation and light intensity, less oxygen and carbon dioxide, soil that is thinner and lighter in nutrients, and shorter growing seasons.

The more concentrated sunlight in higher, mountainous altitudes give the grapes that grow in them a “suntan,” a deeper pigment concentration and thicker skin, and these suntanned skins in turn protect the grapes from colder temperatures at night as the thinner air and abundance of wind in high altitudes create a large fluctuation in temperature from day to night. Meanwhile, during these chilly evenings, the sugar production inside the suntanned grapes is halted temporarily, resulting in a slower ripening. On the terrain side of the equation, the grapevines are forced to be scrappy survival-of-the-fittest fighters as soil is rockier and thinner and allows water to drain through it quickly, and of course the gravity from verticality where vineyards are planted on slopes accentuates this drainage. Hence, rainfall is whisked away from shallow plant roots, forcing grapevines to grow deep into the earth to both establish footholds and to receive water, resulting in low yield-producing plants. But this inhospitable soil has an upside for vitis vinifera, also, in that it is even less welcoming to vine-damaging organisms, such as molds, mildews, and insects (e.g., phyloxera); hence, although the vines are lower yielding, they are sturdy and longlasting.

So what do all of these factors mean for the wine that comes from vineyards grown at high altitudes? The thick skins provide a natural tannin to the extent that high altitude wine often does not require long aging in wood, and the thick skins also transfer a hardiness to the juice that makes it age-worthy in its vinified state. The slow ripening, from the nighttime hiatus of sugar production, allows phenolics (such as quercetine and resveratrol) and other chemical components and acidity ample time to establish themselves to be significant components in the juice. Finally, the longlasting old vines produce smaller clusters of grapes than new vines resluting in concentrated flavors. Hence, in exchange for the “bigness” and jamminess of low altitude wine made from vineyards with sustained, uninterrupted growing seasons and fast ripening, high altitude wine is often finer and more elegant, less alcoholic, because there is less sugar for yeast to eat, and phenolics, acidity, and other chemical components add unique flavor profiles that translate into characteristics such as leanness, spiciness, florality, and herbaceousness, to name a few. 

So you might be wanting a number to define “high elevation.” Well, it’s not so straight forward. Latitude factors heavily into this equation. The sun is strongest closer to the equator, so in lower latitudes (i.e., closer to the equator), higher altitudes are actually a necessary factor for the survivability of vitus vinifera, since lower altitudes in these lower latitude regions are too hot and the air too thick to sustain vitis vinefra. In contrast, in Europe, which is in the uppermost latitude band (further away from the equator), most vineyards are grown at lower altitudes. High altitude in Europe starts at around 500 meters (1,650 feet) above sea level, and few vineyards reach 1,000 meters and no vineyards exceed 1,500 meters. In contrast, in northern Argentina and Chile, which falls on the lower band of the southern latitude band, the beginning of “high altitude” vineyards are at 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) above sea level, and not a small number of vineyards can be found as high as 3,000 meters (9,842 feet). 

For your January Wine Club selections, we selected from three regions that are at three different latitudes: Molise (Italy) is at 42 degrees north of the equator; Salta (Argentina) is at 25 degrees south of the equator, and Ghazir (Lebanon) is in the middle of the pack at 34 degrees north of the equator.


If you’ve never heard of the official Italian political region of Molise, don’t feel bad about yourself. It wasn’t even one of Italy’s 20 regions until 1963; instead, it was part of a region that it shared with Abruzzo called Abruzzi e Molise (And I’m sure you’ve all heard of Abruzzo, so, again, don’t feel bad). Anyway, because it is such a small region that is dominated by the Appenine Mountains, it inevitably includes high altitude vineyards. Although the region has a winemaking history that can be traced back as far as 500 BC, and wine is a staple product, only about two percent of the wine produced in Molise has official regulatory appellation status, i.e., DOC (denominazione di origine controllata), and there are only three DOC wine appellation regions: Biferno, Pentro di Isernia, and Tintilia del Molise. Furthermore, the latter only achieved its DOC status in 2011. We actually selected a wine from the latter because the wine is made from a varietal that is native to the region and survives and expresses itself best in vineyards that are high altitude, at 650 meters (2,133 feet) above sea level, which is quite high for European vineyards.

The typical terrain abutting the Apennine Mountains where the Molise del Tintilia appellation is located in the region of Molise, Italy.


The town Ghazir itself is already at 380 meters (1,250 feet) above sea level. The Beqaa Valley, which is the heart of Lebanon’s agriculture, and situated between Mount Lebanon to the west and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains to the east is in the 1,000 meter and higher range. Close to 90 percent of Lebanon’s wine is grown in Beqaa Valley as its high altitude provides a unique microclimate. The mountains on each side of the valley both contribute to the high altitude and to providing protection, from the deserts to the east and the maritime rains to the west. Grape varietals are mainly French: Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Ugni Blanc, Clairette and Chardonnay.

Vineyards in Beqaa Valley, sandwiched in between Mount Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains 


The province of Salta is situated in the far north of Argentina, which is actually just outside the the lower degree of the wine belt (i.e., the closer to the equator side of it), hence altitude is essential. Most of the vineyards are more than a mile above sea level, and some are as high as 3,000 meters (9,840 feet). The town of Salta was founded by Spanish settlers in 1582, but is known both for its Spanish colonial architecture and its Andean heritage as many Incan artifacts on display in the museums will attest. There are vines that are well over 100 years old in many of the vineyards. Argentina's signature grape varieties of Torrontes and Malbec are Salta's top performers in the region, producing bright, intensely flavored wines

Vines growing in a region that is an oasis in a mountainous desert.


  • Anko Torrontés Estancia Los Cardones
    VARIETAL: 100% Torrontés
    Estancia Los Cardones are estate vineyards in the northwestern corner of Argentina in the Salta region. The estate is named for the area's cacti that can grow as tall as 30 feet. The Estancia Los Cardones vineyards are planted at an elevation of 1,740 meters (5,700 feet). The name Anko means “High Water” in the native Indian language (Quechan) of Salta, reflecting the fact that the region is a high-altitude oasis from surrounding mountainous desert. Yet, the soil is still especially thin and rocky with an abundance of splintered shale on the surface. As a result, the grapes that survive are especially thick skinned, hardy, and packed with natural acid. Wait until you experience how that translates to flavor!
    FOOD PAIRINGS: Asian and Indian cuisine, especially spicy, curries, and poultry and fish.

  • Lame del Sorbo Tintilia del Molise
    VARIETAL: 100 % Tintilia
    The Lame del Sorbo vineyards of Agricolavinica have been growing the local indigenous Tintilia grape for 90 years at an altitude of about 650 meters (2,133 feet) above sea level, but this Tintilia grape has been grown in these mountains since at least the 16th century. After hand-picking, destemming and gentle pressing, the grapes are fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. Agricolavinica farms eco-sustainably: no irrigation, no chemicals, and their vineyards are surrounded by multiple other types of crops for biodiversity. The grapes are small and rich in anthocyanin, which imparts medium, soft tannins.
    FOOD PAIRINGS: braised pork chops, grana Padano cheese, lamb dishes

  • Chateau Musar Jeune
    VARIETALS: Cinsault, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon
    Founded by Gaston Hochar in 1930, Chateau Musar is Lebanon's premier estate, located 15 miles north of Beirut in Ghazir where the vineyards are planted on a limestone bed with gravelly top soils. The vines are 100–150 years old and the whites are planted at 1,200 meters (4,000 feet) and the reds at 1,000 meters (3,280 feet). The grapes are hand-picked, naturally fermented and are unfined and unfiltered. Each varietal is fermented and aged separately; and blended and aged for a minimum of four years in bottle before release.
    FOOD PAIRINGS: Lamb, beef dishes, mature and hard cheeses, Moroccan tagine and spicy Asian dishes