A word on the wine
What makes an Argentine wine tour extra special is the different varieties which thrive at different altitudes. Salta is home to the word's highest altitude vineyards, some originally planted by the priests who came with the conquistadores. The high altitude is particularly suited to Cabernet Sauvignon and Torrontes, as well as the heavy red Uruguayan Tannat (which is actually French for tannin).
Cafayate, Salta's wine hub, is surrounded by mountains and stunning scenery, and home to outstanding boutique vineyards like Domingo Molina, Finca las Nubes and San Pedro de Yacochuya. Further south, Catamarca´s trademark red is Syrah (Shiraz), while La Rioja is known for its Petit Verdot and its own version of Torrontes. In San Juan, the Bonarda and Syrah reds are especially acclaimed. In Mendoza the range of temperatures and altitudes is such that all varieties thrive, though particularly of course Argentina's famous Malbec. Further south in northern Patagonia the cooler climate provides the perfect conditions for Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Classic Wine Routemin 3 days
We head south through the tobacco fields of the Valle de Lerma, and take the winding mountain road of the Cuesta del Obispo, rising to a peak of 3,500m in the Parque Nacional de los Cardones: candelabra cacti pepper the landscape as far as the eye can see. We will visit the picturesque towns of Payogasta and Cachi, and may also make a trip to see rarely-visited Inca ruins at Potrero. In Cachi, as in most small towns of the Andean north west, you'll see typical buildings of adobe and cactus wood, including the beautifully preserved church: this is also our first chance to visit a boutique vineyard.
We continue our trip south through Salta's Argentine wine country via the historic town of Molinos, home of the last ever Spanish Royalist governor, and the picturesque villages of Seclantas and Angastaco: all set in outstanding and constantly-changing scenery. The Quebrada de las Flechas is a breath-taking lunar landscape. We may have time to visit the wine resort of Colomé, which boasts the highest altitude vineyards in the world.
We arrive at Cafayate, the hub of Salta's wine region, home to some of the best boutique vineyards in the New World. And don’t miss the delicious wine ice cream, made with red Cabernet Sauvignon or white Torrontes.
Just south of Cafayate, at the pre-Inca ruins of Quilmes, you’ll discover the extraordinary story of this Diaguita tribe who lived an independent life for centuries, until the Spanish invaders cruelly broke their resistance. Nearby, at Amaicha del Valle, is one of the most impressive museums in Argentina, a work of art in itself: Pachamama museum, dedicated to the pre-Hispanic indigenous culture.
After lunch in another of Cafayate's excellent vineyards, we will return to Salta via the stunning ochre landscape of the Quebrada de las Conchas, a former river bed thought to be 60 million years old. It's not hard to imagine dinosaurs stalking this prehistoric looking landscape.
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min 6 days
Wine and History: Salta to Mendoza
We travel south from Salta through the Valles Calchaquies, populated for centuries by aboriginal tribes, and the seat of fierce resistance to the Spanish invaders. In these parts, the only Spaniards welcomed were Jesuit priests bringing vines to produce wine for mass: starting what is now a thriving industry in the highest altitude wine region in the world.
Just south of Cafayate, Salta Argentine wine country’s premier wine town, we’ll visit the 1,000 year old settlement of Quilmes, the final pocket of resistance to the Hispanic invasion, where a proud tribe of indigenous warriors was only defeated in 1665, more than 100 years after the Spanish arrival.
Nearby is the work of one artistic genius: Hector Cruz, whose Pachamama museum at Amaicha del Valle is inspired by and dedicated to the indigenous culture.
We head south into the sleepy province of Catamarca to visit a vineyard in Santa Maria founded by Augustinian monks, with its rare (for Argentina) Barbera and tasty dessert wine before heading onto Hualfin, home to the 18th century church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario, and the 17th century ruins of rebel chief Juan Chelemin. Happily, there also happens to be a co-operative vineyard here producing excellent Torrontes and Malbec.
Further south, we visit the second oldest city in Argentina: Londres, founded in 1558, and named after the British capital to mark the wedding of the English princess Mary Tudor to Philip II of Spain.
Hidden in the forest nearby are the ruins of the most important Inca settlement in Argentina: Shinkal. This was the southern regional capital of the Inca empire and exhibits well-preserved sun and moon temples and ceremonial platforms.
From here we travel south along the Route of Adobe visiting boutique vineyards in Catamarca and La Rioja, producing some fine Tannat, Petit Verdot and Viognier. We can visit the co-operative winery of Chilecito with its award-winning organic fair trade Tilimuqui Torrontes and Cabernet Sauvignon/Bonarda.
Hugging the Andes, enjoying outstanding views of Famatina mountain, we drive through the impressive landscape of the Cuesta de Miranda before our descent into the heart of Argentina's wine region: San Juan and Mendoza.
We take the slow road through the Calingasta valley, home to some excellent Bonarda and Pinot Gris, before arriving in the mountain town of Uspallata and descending to Mendoza via the stunning mountain road of Villavicencio.
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Both the Classic wine route and the Wine & History tour can be combined with the COLOURS OF VALLECITO hike into the mountains, where we stay with indigenous local families.
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