Vamos a los vineyards! A guide to Cafayate, Argentina’s Second Wine Region
It’s no secret that Argentina is a major player in the world of wine production. Its most famous wine-growing region, Mendoza, is said to produce a whopping 60% of the country’s wine, having been cultivating a wide variety of grapes for centuries.
While Mendoza might be familiar to most, the country’s lesser-known (and second largest) wine region, Cafayate is still something of a well-kept secret. Tucked away in the Calchaqui Valley, in the Salta province, this high-altitude, small town epicentre of wine production boasts a unique microclimate, making it an ideal region for a wide variety of grapes to thrive.
Made up of neat rows of pristine vineyards, cradled by the snow-capped Andes mountains, this picture-perfect town is a great addition to any Argentina itinerary. From bodegas to bike rides, here’s my guide to making the most of the area.
Enjoy the ride
As the saying goes, life is about the journey not the destination, and it’s certainly true when it comes to the drive into Cafayate from Salta – a well-trodden path that’s long-been a staple of most north-western Argentina roadtrips. From the city, you’ll zip along dusty, country roads until you reach a valley hugged by red rock mountains, so vast and imposing that they wouldn’t look out of place on Mars. There are plenty of rugged beauty spots along the way, but the highlight is a huge rock formation, aptly named La Garganta Del Diablo or Devil’s Throat. With its towering walls reaching 160ft, it’s the perfect spot for a photo opportunity. Just be sure to get here early to beat the crowds.
Be there or be square
At the centre of the region you’ll find the town square, a quaint village green flanked by a crop of bars and restaurants. This buzzy hive of activity is the perfect place to kick off your Cafayate experience, starting with a visit to Miranda’s, the proud inventor of the region’s most unusual delicacy - wine ice-cream (it’s as delicious as it sounds). There are stores selling local crafts, clothing and souvenirs by day, but at night, the town really comes alive. Join fellow tourists and locals spilling out onto the street as you clink glasses with new friends over a meal of local specialties, from empanadas to grilled goat. Most restaurants stock wines from the local bodegas, so you can look forward to an authentic taste of the region’s best produce.
Bike to the bodegas
Cafayate is home to dozens of bodegas, from the small family run Domingo Hermanos to the larger and more upscale El Porvenir, each offering a tasting service for a small fee. While most bodegas can be found dotted around the main square, some are a little way out of town, so to make the most of your experience, the best way to get around is on two-wheels. Hire a bike from the tourist office and slowly pedal your way around your chosen wineries, stopping off to sample generous pours as you go. I’d recommend visiting around four or five at a leisurely pace with a stop for lunch to soak up and skip the hangover the next day.
While Mendoza is best known for its full-bodied Malbecs, you might be surprised to learn that Cafayate is actually more famous for its white wine; a crisp, light variety called Torrontés. It’s fresh, smooth taste - similar to a Pinot Grigio – means it’s the ideal drink to enjoy in the sunshine. White wine not your thing? Opt for a Torrontés rosé or pick a classic red from the menu, you’ll find both Malbecs and Tannat on the menu. Take home your favourite and enjoy with a juicy steak dinner.
Let’s do lunch
Forget the traditional cheese and quince pairing, in Cafayate it wouldn’t be a wine tasting without an empanada (or two). Salta is the birthplace of these traditional cheese, chicken or beef-filled pasties, and you’ll find platefuls in every restaurant and street stall in the area. The best I found were at Vasija Secreta winery, just on the outskirts of town, with an incredible view to boot. Settle down on a table facing the vineyards and enjoy the peaceful surrounds as you tuck into a lunch, with a chilled glass of wine in hand, of course.
Chat to one of our Travel Experts about tailor-making your holiday to Argentina