For most people, Argentine wine means Mendoza and Malbec. Add Cafayate to the list!
Cafayate was an afterthought destination for Katrina and me, a two-night stopover on our way to someplace else. We wound up staying a week.
Spectacular landscape. Sunny, dessert climate. Friendly people. Long lunches overlooking vineyards that stretched across the Calchaquí Valley to the surrounding hills and canyons. The grapes were being harvested — Tannat and Malbec and Torrontés — and the rows of vines were starting to show the colors of autumn. The hardest thing we did all week was drive down bumpy gravel roads. Oh, and I did step on a cactus once….
Anyway, after weeks of hiking and boiling soup packets, the pace and the place were perfect.
I won’t embarrass myself by trying to describe the wines. But I will pass along a few facts I picked up at the vineyards and the local wine museum.
The first thing you learn is that the region’s vineyards are the highest in the world — more than a mile above sea level. One byproduct of high-altitude growing is higher alcohol levels, in some cases above 15 percent. We overheard a couple oenophile types quibbling about a noticeable alcoholic bite to some of Cafayate’s wines. Tasted great to us…
Wine producers say the region is blessed with sandy soils, natural irrigation from mountain rivers, warm days and cool nights. It isn’t uncommon for the daytime temperatures of 100 degrees to plummet to 55 at night.
Katrina and I are no connoisseurs, but we were impressed by a few bottles of Tannat, a bold, tannic wine often used for blending but produced pure here. And by Cafayate’s signature wine, Torrontés, a fragrant white wine that experts say is “a mixture of aromas and flavors with an aftertaste of roses, orange skins, chamomile or honey.” It’s been a while since I’ve eaten flowers and fruit peels, so I’m not sure if that’s accurate. But they were delicious!