Cafayate: Wine Country in Argentina

After trotting along a gravel road and cantering through sand dunes, the horses started to climb. Maneuvering across small streams, they moved from the flat valley up towards the snow-capped Andes Mountains. This morning horseback ride was my introduction to Cafayate, high-altitude wine country in the northwest corner of Argentina where vineyards range from 5,400 to 10,000 feet above sea level. There are few better ways to understand this unique terroir than to experience the elements of Mother Nature on horseback.

I wrote about my trip to this on-the-rise wine destination for Departures in a story called: A Wine Lover’s Guide to Cafayate, Argentina. Travelers that have grown weary of wineries with large parking lots and big tour buses will find a refreshing alternative in Cafayate, where many wineries have been owned by the same family for generations. The experience is more intimate, slower — scheduling one winery visit per day is about the right pace (a late morning tour and tasting followed by a leisurely lunch and afternoon nap is just about the perfect day in Cafayate).

One experience not to miss is at Bodega El Porvenir, a winery right in the heart of Cafayate. They have several experiences available, but one that stands out is their blending session. Walking into the bodega, the counter was lined with open bottles of wine with hand-written labels: Malbec, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot. We had the chance to taste each varietal independently, noting what we liked about it and what we thought it was missing. Then it came time to make our own blends. First, we watched our guide make her own blend, and describe what each grape brought to a blend that created her perfect wine.

Then, we were handed measuring instruments and fresh glasses for experimentation. Once we settled on our own individual blend, our guide created a bottle according to our “recipe”. The bottle is yours to take and open over lunch or dinner.

While Cafayate offers plenty to do, the journey to get there is particularly special. Here’s the opening paragraph to my Departures story:

“The road to Cafayate has one lane in each direction, with a dusty shoulder for pulling over when the mountain landscape demands a stop. Whimsical red rock formations, frequently compared to the Grand Canyon, line the winding road that leads from the airport in the provincial capital city of Salta to the town of Cafayate and its surrounding wine country. It’s more than a three-hour drive through the northwest corner of Argentina on this narrow road snaking past towers of striated rock sculpted by wind, water, and time.”

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