Founded in 1582, Salta, Argentina is known for its Spanish colonial architecture and deep Andean heritage. Coravin Guest Contributor Jacqueline Coleman recently had the chance to dive into all that Salta has to offer, from its beautiful landscapes, vineyards, and of course the wine!
Imagine the most remote location you have ever visited, and then push your comfort zone even further into a world where you can drive for hours on an unpaved desert road up thousands of feet into the air far from the nearest sign of life, which happens to only be a small village that closely resembles a ghost town in the midday sun. That is where you will find Bodega Colomé, one of the stops on the most exciting wine country road trip of your life through the dramatic landscape of the northwestern Argentine province of Salta.
Though not as well-known as Mendoza by the International community, Salta is famous for its Torrontés wines, an aromatic grape variety native to Argentina that produces fresh, fruit-forward white wines. The Salta Province wine region can also boast the oldest winery in the country and the highest in the world. However, in order to get there, you need a four-by-four and an incredibly adventurous spirit. Wine tasting in Salta is not for the faint of heart, but it may just be the experience of a lifetime.
You’ll likely start your adventure in the city of Salta, which is the capital of the province, and the best airport to fly into before you make your way down the Salta Wine Trail. It is one of the most stunning representations of a colonial Spanish city intermingled with Andean history and culture and surrounded by towering mountains in the distance. Founded in 1582, Salta has grown into a modern city while maintaining a charm only obtained over the course of 500 years of colonial and cultural revolution and renaissance. The architecture reflects the Spanish influence of the conquistadors, but the city itself is a fascinating melting pot of cultures, producing an inspiring location to eat, drink, and explore.
The Road to Cafayate and Salta Wine Country
Your first stop for wineries will be the area around the town of Cafayate, about three hours south by car from Salta in the Calchaquí Valley region. Make sure your camera is easily accessible as the landscape will change several times during the drive, and you’ll want to capture it all. From high-altitude desert valleys flanked by towering red rock walls to flatland speckled with impressive sandstone boulders, and finally to the rows of manicured vines you’ve been waiting for, there is never a lack of dreamy backdrops as you make your way down to Salta Wine Country.
Bodega El Esteco
Bodega El Esteco sits just outside the city of Cafayate with stunning views of the surrounding valley landscape. Founded in 1892, the winery has been in operation for almost 130 years. The building itself is a beautiful white Spanish colonial compound that straddles the line of elegance and the rustic authenticity of the land.
During your visit, you can simply taste the wines in a modest courtyard in the center of the compound, or stay on site at the estate, which has 32 guest rooms available. El Esteco wines range from the heavier reds such as tannic Tannat and the Argentine delight, Malbec, to rosés, whites and even a line of sparkling wines including a Torrontés Dulce that is unique to the region.
No visit to Cafayate is complete without a visit to the sprawling estate of Piattelli Vineyards. The road into the property is lined by vineyards set to the backdrop of the striking desert mountain landscape. You’ll pull up to the large modern, stone-accented estate, which is home to tasting rooms and a restaurant. The Piattelli Cafayate portfolio contains Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec/Tannat, Malbec-dominated Bordeaux-style red blend, and the regional favorite, Torrontés, all made from high-elevation grapes.
Bad Brother’s Wine Experience
During your stay in Cafayate, you’ll want to make a stop at the Bad Brother’s Wine Experience, a quaint but lively wine bar down an unassuming side street off the main town square in Cafayate. The bar has a trendy indoor section and a relaxing courtyard out back, both stylish places to enjoy a glass of wine from the surrounding Cafayate vineyards. The bar has its own label of wines, and even offers a hands-on option where guests can blend and label their own bottles as part of an experience with an in-house sommelier. In addition to fabulous wines, Bad Brother’s also offers a small plate menu and a weekly entertainment schedule–a must-see wine spot in Cafayate.
You may have seen AMALAYA wines in the U.S., and you may have even enjoyed a Malbec or Torrontés from this label, but did you know that this winery is actually located in Cafayate? AMALAYA is a relatively new label by Donald Hess, who also owns several other wineries in Argentina and the U.S., including the famed Bodega Colomé. This line of economical wines can be easily found around the world, but they can be truly experienced in Cafayate. AMALAYA means “Hope for a Miracle” in the native language of the land, and this was Hess’ vision when he began his attempts to make Old World quality blends in remote regions of the New World. So far, the experiment has been successful. AMALAYA’s visitor center should be open to the public in late 2019.
Approximately three hours northwest on remote sections of Argentina’s famed Ruta 40, you’ll find some of the highest vineyards in the world at the location of the oldest winery in Argentina. The road to Colomé is a challenging one, as once you turn off the highway in a small village called Molinos, you still have about an hour plus drive up a rocky dirt road through the mountains to get to Estancia Colomé, which includes a phenomenal restaurant with gourmet cuisine, nine-room hotel, visitor center, and the James Turrell Museum. A visit to Colomé is an incredibly unique experience for the adventurous wine taster.
The winey was founded in 1831, making it older by a few years than some of the oldest wineries in Mendoza. In 1854, pre-phylloxera Malbec vines were brought from France and planted on the property. Some of those vines still exist on the site and are used in making the high-end reserva wines in production today. Colomé has several lines of premium wines that include Malbec, Torrontés, Tannat, Syrah, Bonarda, Sauvignon Blanc, and even Pinot Noir. All the wines are made from some of the highest-elevation grapes on the planet.
While visiting the estate, don’t skip a tour through the James Turrell art museum on site. This is the only museum dedicated to the American artist, James Turrell, in the world, and one of the most mysterious art museums made even more enigmatic by its remote location. The mesmerizing installations include manipulations of light and space that will challenge your perceptions as you walk from room to room. Located in an inner courtyard in the museum building is the largest skyspace in the world with an open view of the vast Argentine sky.
From art and wine to desert landscapes and miles of vines, Salta wine country is an awe-inspiring location in the world. It is vast and often isolated, but bursting with culture, creativity, passion, and premium Argentine wines. When you’re ready for an out-of-this-world wine adventure, make the trip to Salta and taste it for yourself.
What’s your favorite Argentinian wine? Have you been to the region before? Share with us on social by tagging us @Coravin on all channels!