When you think of wine in Argentina, Mendoza springs immediately to mind. Today, we’d like to introduce you to Salta, the newest top producer of Argentina’s “national drink.” Located at the foothills of the Andes, the northern province of Salta has quickly gained distinction among wine enthusiasts for wines that are just as excellent as, and sometimes superior to, any other Argentine wine. On an Argentina vacation, the wine trails of Salta provide travelers with the chance to tour high altitude vineyards, pick and identify grape varieties, and taste local wines and dishes, all amid the stunning landscapes of the Northwest.
Access to the wine country of the north is through Salta, Argentina’s most well-preserved colonial city. It was founded early in the Spanish colonial period – 1582 to be exact – and today the historic buildings of the city’s center share space with lively cafés, excellent restaurants, and a vibrant nightlife.
Hosting a population of just over 1 million inhabitants, Salta sits nestled in the Lerma Valley at 1,152 meters (3,780 ft) above sea level. The surrounding foothills maintain mean temperatures at around 25°C all year round, and the sum of these conditions has earned Salta designation as “La Linda” (or Salta, the Beautiful). From here, the wine routes stretch south to Cafayate and west to Cachi, though Salta is also a great destination to explore while indulging in wine tastings.
A 189 km (117 mile) drive south of Salta takes travelers to Cafayate, where over 4,500 hectares of vineyards thrive in the high altitude environment of the Calchaqui Valleys. Cafayate is the epicenter of the wine boom and home of the outstanding Torrontés. This aromatic white wine, featuring flowery and fruity scents, very balanced acidity, and a surprisingly dry and understated flavor, has been seducing wine lovers’ palates in recent years.
The distinctive Andean flavors of Torrontés and Cafayate’s other wine varietals (these include Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay and Tannat) can be attributed to the region’s unique climate. Proximity to the Andes accounts for the high elevations; most Cafayate vineyards are located at between 1,700 and 2,800 meters above sea level and are irrigated by snowmelt from Andean peaks. The clean, dry mountain air, intense sun during the day, and very cool nights create the perfect conditions for grape-growing. Combined with technological innovations and the know-how of wine-making experts, it’s no wonder that Cafayate wines have become the talk of the viticultural world.
To sample the local vintage, travelers can either visit individual wineries or stay in town and go to one of the many wine cellars in Cafayate. Important labels in this region include Etchart, Lavaque, and Domingo Hnos. Bodegas Etchart is the oldest and largest winery in the area and offers daily wine tours for interested travelers. Some vineyards also double as boutique wine hotels, providing a perfect setting for a romantic honeymoon or a laidback getaway on an Argentina vacation.
Cachi is a third destination to include on an Argentina wine tour through the north. This small town of 7,000 residents can be accessed directly from Salta or from Cafayate via the famous Ruta 40 (Route 40 that stretches the entire length of Argentina, following the western border provided by the Andes).
Here, the journey is just as exciting as the destination. The landscape is dotted with pre-Columbian ruins, huge cardón cacti, and extraordinary natural features that have become attractions in themselves. For adventure-loving travelers, the gorgeous Andean setting provides opportunities to see sand dunes, hike to waterfalls and through canyons, bike on mountains, and ride on horseback.
Cachi boasts even higher altitudes than Cafayate. For example, the Bodega El Molino de Cachi, a vineyard and boutique hotel, sits as 2,490 meters (8,169 feet) above sea level, while Bodega Colomé is considered to hold the highest altitude vineyard in Argentina at an astounding 3,111 meters (10,206 feet). Growing season is characterized by very hot days and cold nights and the grapes seem to love the daily temperature swing, making for what some say are the best wines in Argentina.
Anabel has been exploring the length and width of South America since 2010. Ditching preconceptions, settling into the local pace, and embracing the unexpected are the tenets of her philosophy of travel – and life.