Alternative Wine Route: wineries and destinations in northern Argentina

The wine route goes beyond its privileged headquarters in the province of Mendoza; Salta, La Rioja, Santiago del Estero, Jujuy, Catamarca, San Juan and Tucumán make a parade of unique strains and pairings

(Source: Visit Argentina)

Terroirs, varietals and sensory experiences that test the taste buds. Argentina is a country where wine is always the protagonist in gatherings, barbecues, meetings with friends and family lunches. And, although Mendoza concentrates 70% of local production and is internationally recognized for its Malbec and spectacular proposals, the northern region also presents alternatives to discover other interesting points of the national wine route. The colorful mountains, the reddish earth and the altitude as a condition prepare the perfect recipe to enjoy an unforgettable circuit touring seven provinces. Gastronomy always plays a leading role along with pairing, but there is no shortage of walks along vine trails and excursions to soak up the northern natural environments.

1) Jump

One of the most sought after coordinates in the region. Because along 530 kilometers, diving into the Calchaquí Valleys, one of the best versions of Salta wine appears. The particularity? The height at which they are harvested, which ended up positioning them in the rest of the world. With vineyards ranging from 1750 meters above sea level to 2700 and 3015 meters in locations such as Molinos and Payogasta, the characteristics of the soil and climate are optimal for the growth of grapes. But the phenomenon began much earlier: the Jesuits began with the plantations in the 18th century and, since then, they have been perfecting and expanding the number of wineries available for consumption.  

Cafayate, a small town located in the south of the province, stands out as the essential destination for those interested in enjoying wine tourism. This charming town has an area of ​​vineyards that exceeds 2,720 hectares, which constitutes 75% of the total vineyards in the entire province, in addition to housing the largest number of wineries in the valley region. In addition, the largest in Salta rests here: El Esteco. You can also visit Piatelli, one of the most modern, Yacochuya, El Porvenir, Vasija Secreta, Nanni, El Tránsito, Amalaya and Finca Las Nubes.

Outside of Cafayate, the journey continues through the departments of Molinos (where the Colomé winery stands out), San Carlos, Angastaco, Cachi and Seclantás.

Now, if we talk about strains, the must-see in Salta is Torrontés: white and unique - Argentina is the only country that produces it. The smell is reminiscent of white flowers and citrus, and in the mouth it feels fresh and aromatic, with a fair balance between acidity and sweetness. The thermal amplitude causes temperatures to change abruptly from day to night, which contributes to the slow ripening of the grapes, thus preserving the aromas and natural acidity of the variety. These characteristics of Torrontés make it go very well with empanadas from Salta, a gastronomic classic not only in the area, but in the country in general. The small portions of filled dough find a particular magic in the lands of Salta, where the filling is made of knife-cut meat, onion, chopped hard-boiled egg, green olives, cumin and paprika.

2) Jujuy

Another destination that stands out for its high-altitude wines: maturation is optimal due to temperature differences, and the winds also play their part in the process. Torrontés continues its reproductive path, and strains such as Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, among others, are added. The Quebrada de Humahuaca is the backdrop for this wine route. Its impressive natural beauty, cultural history and geological relevance led it to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. So the advantage is double: you get to know an emblematic site of the blue and white country and, meanwhile, you taste some of the most curated wines in Argentina.

Together, local producers generate approximately 15,000 bottles per year that reach the region. And, although there are regions that cover more hectares, Jujuy wines continue to go strong and grow in demand, tastings, wineries and restaurants. What wineries to visit? The Fernando Dupont Winery, in the town of Maimará, is framed between the colors of the Painter's Palette and produces high-altitude wines. For its part, Viñas del Perchel are located between Tilcara and Huacalera, with production at 2625 meters above sea level. Las Viñas de Uquía function as an accommodation that hides a small winery that is considered the highest in America and Europe. They produce organic wines and their star bottle - Uraqui Minero Corte A 2016 - won the applause of the prestigious Master of Wine, Tim Atkins, in his 2018 report. In addition, the Yacoraite Vineyards present one of the most sophisticated architectures in the area, in full super rustic natural landscape and at extreme height.  

3) La Rioja

The Torrontés Rioja variant is a separate chapter. It leads the category and, therefore, La Rioja is another great leading province on the vine map specifically and on the wine route in general. Being part of the northwest region of Argentina, the climatic conditions are similar to the rest of the provinces and, therefore, the dry, warm climate with little rainfall is ideal for cultivation. With red, yellow and green tones, the valleys of La Rioja will enchant anyone who is craving a trip through its lands. Apart from its maximum must-see, the Talampaya National Park, the vineyard roads enter the podium of obligatory stops in the province of the reddish land. More than twenty wineries are distributed in the region, some more family-oriented and others industrial. What they all have in common is that they seek to transmit the purest essence of Torrontés from Rioja and other strains to those curious who enter the tasting experience.

What places to visit for a wine-guided sensory journey? The Familia Sacavino Arrieta Winery is in the town of Los Palacios and delivers a pure Rioja Torrontés called Sumalao. The Aicuña Winery was created by local producers and became an establishment that continues to grow. Haras San José offers a tasting proposal with local cuisine and some varying wines, all aimed at exploiting the experience 100%. Bodega Valle de la Puerta, in the Famatina Valley, stands out for its production of red wines such as Malbec and Bonarda.

4) Santiago del Estero

Santiago del Estero also appears as a privileged destination for Argentina's emblematic grape elixir. In the town of Beltrán, which belongs to the department of Robles, the province reveals a little-known facet but that deserves a prominent place in the experiences. When the sun sets and the sky is painted with stars in the darkness, a new adventure begins that includes tasting local wines, guided meditation sessions, the opportunity to explore native recipes that challenge the palate, and the possibility of contemplating the starry sky with the help of binoculars and telescopes. Finca María Pilar is the first Santiago winery certified by the National Institute of Viticulture and enables a walk through the vineyards, a Creole lunch with wine tasting, tastings of goat cheese and other local products.

5) Catamarca

A destination that abounds in mountain ranges, has the Andes Mountains on its heels to the west and archaeological sites, adobe routes and towering dunes to its credit. A place where nature grows without too much effort and activities spring up in every corner. And one of Catamarca's alternatives is, without a doubt, its own wine itinerary. Bordering the province of Tucumán, the town of Santa María (within the Calchaquí Valley) is one of the most prone to the production of high-altitude wines such as Barbera, Malbec, Bonarda, Syrah and Tannat. The iconic Route 40 then joins with Route 60 to connect other valleys that are also strong: Tinogasta and Fiambalá. The sandy soils and temperate continental climate once again favor the production of fine styles of the highest quality. The Hualfín Winery, at 1,568 meters above sea level, is equipped with cutting-edge technology and impressive machinery, which allows for the production of a good number of kilos of Malbec and Torrontés grapes.

To the west of the province of Catamarca is the department of Tinogasta, protected by the majestic and beautiful presence of the Seismiles, which make up the highest mountain range in Argentina, with peaks that exceed 6000 meters. In this region, you will find Bodega Veralma, another option to discover high-altitude wines.

In the Pomán Valley, specifically in the town of Siján, is El Manchao, an imposing hill that at its highest point rises to 4,561 meters above sea level. Right at the base, more than a century ago, an agricultural tradition began that lasted through generations and continues to advance today: Bodega Michango. The result is wines that acquire a richness in color and aroma, as well as a structure that exclusively and unmistakably reflects the characteristics of the terroir.

6) Saint John

The second most important province in the country's wine industry, a significant achievement in a place where wine plays such a prominent role. Approximately 16% of its vast territory, characterized by picturesque valleys and mountains, is dedicated to the production of this precious elixir. Although Syrah is the leading variety in terms of local representation, when it comes to white wines, Torrontés undoubtedly takes the lead.

The arid soil and persistent sun of this region give rise to fertile vineyards that are home to both traditional and modern and boutique wineries. The latter, equipped with cutting-edge technology, venture into new techniques in the wine industry, resulting in award-winning wine varieties both nationally and internationally. The wine route in this area extends through five valleys: Calingasta, Pedernal, Tulum, Ullum-Zonda and Fértil. Numerous wineries open their doors to the public, thus creating a unique wine tourism experience in the country.

In Tulum, Viñas de Segisa, Marale Wines, Las Marianas, Callia, El Milagro and Bodega Argus stand out, among others. The Ullum-Zonda area presents Apotema or Finca Sierras Azules, two good representatives of the province. The Pedernal Valley, for its part, is located between 1100 to 1500 meters above sea level, and is 150 kilometers north of the city of Mendoza and almost 100 kilometers south of San Juan capital. Some wineries are Pyros Wines de Salentein, Guarida del Malbec and Bodegas Graffigna Yanzon. Finally, Calingasta offers the Andes mountain range and foothills on the other side, bordering Route 40 and visiting wineries such as Entre Tapias, Bodega del Carmen, Los Dragones, 35.Cinco or Alta Bonanza de los Andes.

7) Tucuman

An essential item when exploring northwest Argentina. The magic of local grapes is experienced in several provinces, including Tucumán, which is not far behind in this aspect. The Malbec and Torrontés grape varieties stand out in a route that covers approximately 100 kilometers in the heart of the Calchaquíes Valleys, where the vineyards extend from altitudes of 1,750 to 3,000 meters above sea level. On this route, the emblematic Route 40 merges with the 307, creating a painted landscape of vineyards and wineries. Both local and industrial producers are dedicated to growing one of the most valued fruits in the country. The result is a tasting experience that combines perfectly with the rich regional cuisine. Furthermore, in Tucumán there is the only winery in Argentina (and third in the world) managed and directed by an indigenous community: Bodega Los Amaichas. This community belongs to the Great Diaguita Nation and maintains a political system headed by a Chief, a Council of Elders and an Assembly. The creation of the winery was a great way to integrate into society. Nearly 60 families work together to produce truly exceptional wines in harmony with Mother Earth. The jewel of the region is the Sumak Kawsay, which in Quechua means "the good life."

Source: Visit Argentina.

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