In Argentina’s north, visitors can find some of the country’s most captivating and picturesque wine lands. The rugged mountains paint a multi-coloured backdrop of purple, red and golden hues behind vibrant green vineyards which are dotted with ancient cacti – and occasionally a stray llama or guanaco.
Northern Argentina’s wine regions are centred around the charming town of Cafayate in the heart of the Calchaquí Valley. Salta -- the main gateway to Cafayate -- is a bustling city with handsome colonial architecture, the highlights of which are the beautiful churches which line every plaza. It’s worth spending a night or two in Salta to appreciate a local peña (folklore performance) and visit the lightning-struck Incan mummies in the High Mountain Archeology Museum.
The three-hour drive from Salta to Cafayate takes you deep into the mountain range, with surreal land formations and natural amphitheatres emerging from the rocks. Cafayate town is small and quaint, easily explorable by foot, and an oasis of handicrafts, traditional restaurants and boutique wineries.
Cafayate is the home to Argentina’s native white grape variety, Torrontés. This grape should be at the top of your tasting list in Cafayate, alongside the many red varieties that thrive in these high altitude conditions including Malbec, Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon.
There are dozens of wineries to visit in Cafayate, with many easily accessible from the town's main square. Top picks include the picturesque and historic winery of El Porvenir and the modern luxury of the Piattelli winery where you can also take a cooking class at their excellent restaurant. Also worth visiting is Michel Torino (El Esteco) for fantastic old vine wines and its luxury hotel and spa. For sunset views over the vineyards, head to Finca Las Nubes in the local village.
Wine connoisseurs should also visit Cafayate’s Wine Museum, which explains more about grape growing and wine production in the region. It has panoramic views over the valley and information on Cafayate’s wine history and culture.
How to visit Cafayate’s vineyards
The vineyards are clustered together within a few kilometres of Cafayate, so getting between them is easy. Visitors can walk between the town’s many vineyards, or hire bikes and tour around the bodegas for tastings. If the idea of cycling up Cafayate's hills sounds too strenuous, it is also possible to hire a car or taxi to drive you around. The views from the surrounding hills are excellent.
Make sure to call Cafayate’s vineyards and bodegas before visiting to ensure they’re open and to book tours in English. Most will offer free one-hour tours plus tastings, but those looking for more depth (or more tastings) should call ahead and book a time.
For a break from wine, try hiking the 4-hour Cafayate Waterfall Hike, which takes you through canyons and mountains, offering lovely views of the Cafayate Valley below.
Cafayate wine factfile