Our quest to understand the wines of Argentina brought us to the second major wine producing region in Argentina, famous for its white Torrontes wines. It took two bus trips and over 8 hours to get to Cafayate from Tilcara, in the north where we had been for the previous week.
Cafayate is a department within the province of Salta, Argentina. The wines from Salta are the highest vineyards in the world with more than 1800 hectares of vines cultivated in the Calchaquí Valleys. Cafayate’s vines are at 1750 meters above sea level making it higher than the vines of Mendoza, Burgundy and Bordeaux in France, and Napa Valley in the U.S.
They say that Cafayate is the ‘land where the sun lives.’ With over 340 sunny days per year, the hot rays of the sun and cool nights, produces grapes with superb ripeness that transmits to the wines intense colors and great concentrations of aromas and flavors.
Torrontes is Cafayate’s emblematic wine and we sought out to understand its mystic by sampling it at various bodegas (wineries). Unlike Medoza, Cafayate is a much smaller town and very easy to navigate. We stayed at La Morada Hostel, great clean hostel that is two blocks away from the main plaza and used this as our base to visit the different bodegas by foot (yes, walking).
We went to 9 different bodegas, but were only actually able to visit 6 of them. The hours we got from the tourist office and what is posted online is not always accurate. If you find yourself in Cafayate, plan for few additional days as you might need to adapt to the local hours (take examples on the “locals” below). Also keep in mind that during the weekend, the town slows down quite a bit and not everything is open.
For the purposes of this post, we will highlight 4 of the bodegas we found most interesting.
Table of contents
Museo de la Vid y del Vino
Before we dive into our experience of the bodegas, we took a worthwhile detour to the museum dedicated to the wine in Cafayate called Museo de la Vid y del Vino. The first part of the museum does a great job of describing the specificities of the wine region with a touch of poetry. The second part of the museum focuses on the birth of Cafayate as a wine producing region and the early years of production. A very nice experience and one we highly recommend.
One of the best tours and best experience we had was at Nanni bodega. Very conveniently located, about one block from our hostel, actually we ignored Nanni until the very last minute when the other wineries we wanted to visit were closed. Nanni is clear about their opening hours and they are one of the vineyards with the more flexible hours, certainly due to the fact that they also run a restaurant inside the bodega.
Nanni produces organic wines in limited quantities, about 400,000 bottles a year. It is possible to tour their relatively small operation for free without doing a tasting. We chose to do the tour, which was very instructive and led by a passionate guide. This was followed by a tasting of four of their signature wines.
We liked Nanni’s wine the best, particularly the Torrontes which was fruity and smooth. Not too dry and not too sweet, the perfect balance. We also enjoyed the Tannat, one of the other wines we discovered in Cafayate. It is a strong red wine with a lot of tannin and strong aromas of vanilla, chocolate and tobacco. It’s the perfect wine to enjoy with a red meat.
At the end of the tasting, we were allowed to finish our wines in their lovely gardens outside. The next time you find yourself in Cafayate, we would highly recommend visiting Nanni bodega. Here you will enjoy the beautiful “cadre”, knowledgeable guides, an intimate tour and finally a sampling of their wonderful wines.
We stumbled onto this bodega by chance. It was Saturday in the beginning of the afternoon and we had learned the day before that the two largest bodegas of the region were Etchart and El Esteco. We walked to Etchart from our hostel and after 2km of walking, we had the bad surprise to find out that it was closed for renovation. Note that it has been 2 years so check ahead before you attempt to visit this bodega.
The second largest bodega is El Esteco. We knew they were open and they were doing visit and tasting. We went again for 2km of walk on the other side of the city this time. And again we were disappointed to find it closed in the afternoons on the weekend. Fortunately, on the way, we had noticed this bodega called Vasija Secreta where we spotted a tourist bus. That generally means the bodega is open and it offers tours. We hurried up to get there determined to get a tour of the bodega.
To our great amazement, the bodega was just starting a tour of their private museum, their production process followed by a free tasting. The tour was nice although quick. We enjoyed the tasting though we were not so keen with the wines. Our best choices were again the Torrontes wines (the dry ones) and the Tannat. For some reason, we didn’t find the Malbec as round and flavorful that the ones we tasted and wrote about in Mendoza.
We understand now why Mendoza is famous for its Malbec and Cafayate for its Torrontes wines. Once you taste the wines, it makes total sense. At the end of the tour, we took the opportunity to taste more of their wines seating on the patio of their restaurant, a nice way to end the afternoon at this bodega. We totally recommend it for its setting and free tasting.
Jose L. Mounier – Finca Las Nubes
We had spotted Mounier when we arrived in Cafayate and had read that it was know for its organic wines and amazing location at the foot of the mountains. It was about 5km from our hostel and after much walking in the morning to go to Etchart (which was closed) and Quara, we decided to take a remis (local taxi) and walk back the 5 km.
When we arrived at Bodega Mounier, we were the only ones waiting to get a tour of the winery. We were a bit anxious as we had not booked a tour in advance, but the guide told us the visit would start in few minutes if we wanted to wait. We were expecting a tourist bus to pull-up but the guide actually ended up giving us a private tour for just the two of us. Mounier is a small bodega that produces about 50,000 bottles of wines a year, they make the wine organically although they don’t have the organic certification and label. We learned that the production of wines in Argentina is mainly young wines that don’t mature in oak. This is due to the market demand in Argentina which likes to consume wine right away.
Argentines, as we learned don’t have the culture of keeping wines and letting them age and that they don’t necessarily appreciate complex wines. The founder of this familial bodega is Jose L. Mounier and the wines are branded Las Nubes (which means the clouds). It is a nice bodega to go visit for its view and its intimate setting.
Our stop at Finca Quara was very spontaneous. We hadn’t planned to go there as we had tasted one of the Quara wines at a wine bar in town and we were not impressed by it. Quara was on the way to Etchart and because it was closed, we decided to make a stop at Finca Quara on our way back.
A large tourist bus preceded us and we ended up doing the tour with them. It was not the most pleasant experience as the group was large and the guide not quite at ease with the group, lacking the experience and confidence to manage a group of that size. After the tour, another guide took over who did a great job in the tasting room and have us taste two of their wines for free. We were pleasantly surprised by their Tannat reserve which was very enjoyable, well rounded and rich. That gave us a renewed appreciation of Quara wines which made us consider buying their Tannat wines.
Torrontes and Malbec Ice cream – A Refreshing Delight
As we were walking around the main plaza in Cafayate, we noticed several heladeria’s selling artisanal ice-cream featuring Torrontes wines and Malbec wines. The famous helados in town is Heladeria Miranda and we went by several times and it was never opened. Just like the bodegas, the hours are loose and variable. We ended up sampling the ice-creams at Heladeria Dessio on the main square, which also makes the artisanal Torrontes and Malbec flavored wines.
The first thing that the surprised us about the ice-cream is that they are more of a sorbet than a ice-cream. This was actually great because they were refreshing on a hot afternoon. The Torrontes was hands down better than the Malbec. Like the wines which are full of aroma and intense flavors, this carries through to the ice cream and with the ice, it is a delicious finish.
The Malbec ice-cream had lots of potential but didn’t live up the quality of the Torrontes ice-cream. As we were enjoying the ice cream we wondering whether the flavor could have been improved with a better quality Malbec. Nevertheless, wine flavored ice cream is an experience and we would highly recommend the Torrontes flavor.
We really enjoyed experiencing the wines in Cafayate. It’s much easier to navigate than Mendoza and the tastings are also significantly cheaper or free. The wines though are different and we cannot say that one region has better wines than the other. Both regions have their own specialties and it is evident in the wines. For Malbec wines, there is no place better than Mendoza. For Torrentes wines and Tannat, you can’t go wrong in Cafayate. If you have the time in your travel schedule, check out both regions for the differences in cities as well.
This trip concludes our tour of the northern region of Argentina. We had a chance to discover the wines and food specialties of Mendoza. We sampled the unique dishes from the Quebrada de Humahuaca and finally the Torrontes wines of the Cafayate region. The part of our journey takes us to Uruguay and then back to the southern region of Argentina. Stay tuned for more about our travels.
La Morada Hostel Hurtado, 4427 Cafayate, Salta.
Museo de la Vid y del Vino – 30 pesos ($3.5) per person entrance fee, Av. Güemes Sur esquina Fermín Perdiguero, 4427 Cafayate, Salta.
Bodega Nanni – 30 pesos ($3.5) per person for tasting free tour, Silverio Chavarría 151, A4427ALC Cafayate, Salta.
Bodega Vasija Secreta – free tour and tasting, Los Durazneros 1052, Cafayate, Salta.
Bodega Jose Mounier – 15 pesos ($2) per person tour and tasting, El Divisadero, Alto Valle de Cafayate, Salta.
Bodega Finca Quara – free tour and tasting, Ruta 40 – km 4340. Cafayate, Salta.
Heladeria Dessio, Vicario Toscano 50 4427 Cafayate, Salta.
Other Bodegas Not Visited
El Esteco (closed in the afternoons on the weekend).
Etchart (closed for renovation).
El Porvenir (temporarily closed when we went).
Other Bodegas Visited and Not Mentioned
El Transito (terrible visit) – free tour and tasting.
Salvador Figueroa (very simple tasting, no visit) – 10 pesos ($1.5) per person for tasting.
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Claire is a culinary explorer, digital nomad and engineer brain behind Authentic Food Quest. Together with her partner, Rosemary, they created Authentic Food Quest to help people find the best local food on their travels. For over 5 years they have eaten their way through South America, Southeast Asia, Europe, and North America while sharing the best local food experiences on their website. Authentic Food Quest has been featured on top publications such as Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Honest Cooking. Claire and Rosemary are also authors of Authentic Food Quest Argentina and Authentic Food Quest Peru, available on Amazon.