I love wine: all types and at all times of day, from a bubbly breakfast mimosa to a sleepy port wine nightcap (and all the possible bright lunch pours and celebratory champagne sips in between). For me, any day is made better with wine. Any victory is happier, and any downfall more pleasant, with the addition of wine.
So of course when visiting Argentina (a known wine capital of the world) with a fellow wine-lover, visiting some wineries was top on my list of must-dos. As was consuming vast amounts of vino.
While I had heard about Mendoza’s fabulous wine from practically everyone and their brother, and read about it in raving article after article, unfortunately my timeline just wouldn’t allow for it. I would be entering Argentina from northernmost Chile, landing me in northern Argentina (Salta, to be precise), and I’d have just a few days before I needed to head back to Bolivia. It’d be barely enough time to make the super long bus ride from Salta to Mendoza (over 15 hours) and back, let alone spend some time relaxing and enjoying myself.
So what’s a wandering wine-lover to do?
Luckily, my travel buddy Lavi suggested Cafayate on the basis of a friend’s tip. The small, lesser known town is located in the North and easily reached from Salta. It is also called the “second” wine region of Argentina, said to be surpassed only by Mendoza.
Visiting was an easy YES!
The trip from Salta to Cafayate was just under 3 hours, and easily one of the most beautiful bus rides of my life. The Valley of the Rio las Conchas (also called the Quebrada de Cafayate) is partially framed by the route from Salta to Cafayate, along National Route 68. It is definitely one bus ride you do NOT want to sleep through.
Upon arrival, we were pleasantly surprised by the quaintness of the town. Framed by beautiful mountain views, Cafayate seemed like a seriously one-horse town.
And best of all: everything revolved around wine. Every restaurant offered a variety of vinos, and every appetizer (heavy on the cheese and bread) and main dish was the perfect choice for wine pairing.
Even our hostel, the cute and cozy Rusty K, featured an outdoor sitting area perfect for enjoying a few glasses of locally produced wine, while the raw product in the form of swollen grapes swayed above our heads.
During our days in Cafayate, we created a sort of haphazard and DIY wine tasting walk of our own. Rather than sign up for an overpriced and over scheduled tour, we got a map of the wineries and wandered around looking for signs. We bounced from winery to winery (most very conveniently located within a ten minute walk of what you could call the “city center”), sampling wines and learning about the vineyards. While just one vineyard included a tour and samples for free, most were priced quite reasonably at around 20 pesos for several small glasses of various wines.
In Cafayate, while many different varieties of grape and wine are produced, the most ubiquitous wine is called torrontes, which is a light white wine. Torrontes is generally high in acidity, quite aromatic, and usually consumed within a year of its bottling. Lucky for us, it is also perfect for sitting, sipping, and chatting.
If you don’t have time for Mendoza, or you’re looking for something off the main tourist path, don’t write off Argentina’s wine scene entirely. Take a chance on cute Cafayate and you won’t be disappointed!