Foodie Features

Snow Covered Mountains

By Hallgarten Druitt

Is there anything better for winter dishes than mountain wines?

I have always been captivated by snow and mountains so when I heard a Spanish wine producer describe his wines as “mountain wines” it was a phrase that immediately seized my imagination.

Mountain wines might not have quite the same following as natural wines or be as talked about as cool-climate wines, but for me they have incredible appeal and not just because I’m gripped by mountain fever. They can offer something over and above a cool climate wine.

The voice for mountain wines is Cervim (the Centre for Research, Environmental Sustainability and Advancement of Mountain Viticulture) who campaign to safeguard the viticulture landscape and cultural interest of mountain wine growers. They even have a competition, now in its 21st edition but it is yet to breakthrough into the mainstream, at least here in the UK.

Talk to most winemakers and you’ll find out they almost all aspire to make wines that speak of where they come from. This is because wine is a product of its environment, not only the climate and soil but also the people, the history and culture of the territory. Wines have traditionally evolved along with the cuisine of a region in line with the populations’ tastes. One could argue that a region’s wines are so interlinked with the regional dishes, matching them is not just a safe bet but an experience. In the same way mountain wines can offer an emotional connection with winter dishes.

In mountain regions the grapes ripen and accumulate flavour slowly, they have high acidity giving freshness and they tend to be complex as well as very often mineral and extremely food friendly. Mountain wines benefit from zero pollution (pollution can disrupt photosynthesis and injure leaves, roots and soil, thus affecting the fruit). There can also be benefits from the more intense ultraviolet rays at high altitude. The UV rays encourage the vine to activate defence mechanisms against the sun and the grape’s skin thickens to protect its seed. The thicker skins have more antioxidants, tannins, sugars and polyphenols giving the wines more colour and structure. The ultra-clean air and fresh water from the snow melt sets up the vine for the growing season ahead, while the cooler, longer growing season ultimately allows the fruit to reach optimum maturity. On top of the natural benefits you could also argue there is a human benefit and having lived in the Italian Alps for two winters I would tend to agree. Making wine in the mountains at such challenging heights, gradients and weather conditions requires a desire to succeed. The tenacity necessary to live and make wine in remote mountain areas guarantees a product made with resilience and a huge desire to succeed.


• A thick snow layer protects vines from frost damage during the hard winter months.

• Slow and steady melting, allows water to penetrate the soil, fundamental for the first vine development stages.

• Snowmelt seeps deeply into the soil irrigating even the most deep-seated roots.

• Cold weather helps eliminate insects such as mites, which can settle in the vine bark and harm the plant when temperatures rise.

Foodie Features

Yerri Valley, Navarra

It would seem a little odd if I didn’t mention the wine producer who first brought mountain wines to my attention. Jose Maria Fraile started Tandem in 2003 with winemaker Alicia Eyaralar. Located in the coolest area of the Navarra D.O at the foothills of the Sierras Urbasa and Andia mountains the average vineyard altitude is 600m. Tandem is the essence of new wave Spain and produces wines unlike any other winery in Navarra. Jose Maria always jokes about the Tandem paradox, the fact they are an ultra-modern, state-of-the-art winery that uses the old-fashioned way of making wines; minimum intervention, concrete tanks and cap plunging in a gravity-fed winery. Their wines are elegant and fresh, reminiscent of the crisp, pure air of the Yerri Valley.

Alto Adige, Italy

Anyone crazy about mountains knows Alto Adige. The incredible Dolomite mountain range is the backdrop to a picture postcard region. With vineyards ranging from 300 metres to the highest around 1,000 metres above sea level this really is the natural habitat for mountain wines and one of the reasons it is seen as Italy’s top region for white wines. In the Southern part of Alto Adige on the east-facing slopes of the Roen mountain you will find one of Italy’s most awarded wineries, Cantina Tramin. Their wines reflect nature’s ability to engage the senses – elegant, aromatic whites with a purity of fruit that can only be produced in crisp mountain air.

Tupungato, Argentina

With an eye line dominated by the Tupungato volcano, one of Argentina’s highest peaks at 6,500m, the region produces wines with attitude. Vineyards range from 1,000m right up to the base of Mount Tupungato itself at 1,300m. The vineyards of Andeluna are all in the highest part and their excellent location has helped the winery quickly become one of the regions standout producers. Even their labels pay homage to their location with the core ranges called 1300 and Altitud. The mountain position gives their wines intense colours, supreme levels of concentration, pronounced aromas and complexity that is hard to find at this price point.

Amyndeon, Greece

Greece’s coolest wine growing region is in North West Macedonia just below the Varnous and Verno mountains. The Amyndeon plain may be 1500m lower than the highest peaks but the cold winters with plenty of snow give the vines the necessary water to endure the relatively dry summer. The jewel in the crown from this area is Alpha Estate. In 2013 the estate was nominated as one of Wine and Spirits Wineries of the Year and received hugely favourable ratings from both Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages and erobertparker. Their Xinomavro-based reds have high altitude precision that recalls top quality Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir.

Troodos Mountains, Cyprus

The ski resorts in Mount Olympus are normally open from early January to the end of March, but snow can fall at any time between December and April. The highest point is only 1,951m above sea-level so far lower than the peaks of central Europe but the Troodos Mountains are home to Europe’s highest cellars in the Kyperounda Winery. With grapes that are harvested in November wines such as the Petritis made from 100% Xynestri have all the hang-time in the world to mature. The results are rich but crisp white wines full of refreshing cool-climate fruit.

Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan

“Yama” means mountain and the area 100km west of Tokyo is dominated by large mountains, typically over 3000m, including the country’s most famous landmark, Mount Fuji. The region is home to the flourishing Japanese wine industry and the native Japanese grape called Koshu – the name actually comes from the region which was formerly known as Koshu. The mix of cold winters and cool summers, well-drained volcanic soils and the Koshu grape gives clean, delicate, distinctive wines reflective of their mountainous home.

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