Nestled high in the Lerma Valley at the foothills of the Andes mountains, the Salta wine region in Argentina is renowned as home to the highest altitude vineyards in the world – where some wines are produced among the clouds at over 3,000m above sea level.
The mountainous landscape, which could easily be mistaken for the scenery from a spaghetti western, creates a rain shadow over the vineyards below, ensuring clear skies and low levels of waterfall – while conveniently providing irrigation through melt water descending from the snowy peaks of Argentina.
Together with exceptional sunshine weather and a wide variation in daytime and evening temperatures, the Salta wine region allows grapes to develop phenolic ripeness while retaining their acidity to produce bright, intensely flavoured wines. While red wine varieties including Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tannat are grown in the Salta wine region, the area is regarded as the epicentre for the country’s signature white wine Torrontés – the only 100% Argentinian white grape variety.
The fertile Calchaqui Valley hosts approximately 50 high altitude bodegas scattered throughout the region, which include the oldest working winery in Argentina. The most important wine growing areas in the Salta region of Argentina, however, are Cafayate and the sky-scraping vineyards of Molinos.
Cafayate’s vineyards reside at 1,700m, which is around 2,000m above the highest in Europe - found in the Valais in Switzerland – while the Colome estate in Molinos, an even more remote valley in Salta, currently claims the record in the altitude stakes at 3,111m. The tall mountains and extreme landscape of red deserts littered with cacti and wandering alpacas create breathtaking natural views, which have given the region the local title of Salta, La Linda – or ‘Salta, the beautiful’.
The Salta wine region also boasts stunning colonial architecture preserved from the Spanish conquistadors and cultural influences from Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay that give it a more authentic South American feel than many places in Argentina.
The Salta wine region is small compared to its Argentinian neighbours, and produces little more than 1% of the country’s wines from its 5,200 acres of vineyards. However, the popularity of Torrontés, which is grown elsewhere in the country but struggles to reach the same perfumed perfection as in Salta, has made the area a must travel destination for intrepid wine tourists.
With so much to learn about and enjoy, the best way to make the most of a trip to Salta is to plan a customized wine tour: research ahead, select the activities that best suit your interests and book in advance to avoid disappointing surprises on the day of your visit. If you prefer to leave the organization in the knowledgeable hands of an expert, contact a local experts to get their help planning the bespoke wine holiday of a lifetime!
They can tailor-make a private tour of the Cafayate region to allow you to explore the picturesque valley where alpacas roam freely and locals still dress in the traditional colourful clothing of the altiplano (high plain), as well as the wonderfully relaxed setting and welcoming atmosphere of the town itself. Of course, there is also the opportunity to sample wines grown at high altitudes in the Salta wine region and a bespoke local cuisine experience where wines are paired with specialities including a traditional asado (BBQ) and empanades or tamales in the bodega’s old colonial house.
In the last few years, the passion of local bodegas, some of which have been owned by the same families for centuries, and the expertise of consultant European winemakers has brought a revolution in quality – if this continues Salta could soon be one of the most exciting wine regions in the world.
Check out our Argentina destination guide and start planning a wine tour of the Salta region in Argentina and enjoy a wine tasting among the clouds (or almost!).
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