Argentina’s status has spawned a whole industry around wine-region tours in the country’s north-west. Mendoza and Salta - both interesting cities in their own right - are the places to head for and make good jumping-off points for visiting the surrounding wine towns.
If you’re stopping off in Salta itself, make sure you visit the city’s fascinating Museum of High Altitude Archaeology (MAAM). Here you’ll be able to see the perfectly preserved remains of three children ritually sacrificed by the Inca five centuries ago on the Llullaillaco volcano to the west of Salta, on the present day border with Chile. Thanks to the extreme temperatures and dry air of the Andes, the children’s hair, clothing, jewellery and even skin has been preserved so as to appear almost identical to the way it looked on the day they died. Don’t pass up the chance to see one of Argentina’s best museums and an exceptionally rare insight into the social and religious practices of the Inca half a millenium ago.
Getting out of the city, you should head straight for Cafayate - the town at the heart of Salta’s wine region with a host of wineries to visit within 10 minutes of the centre. There’s loads of accommodation here for all budgets and you can rent bikes at several places around town. Cycling is well worth doing here - this way you’ll be able to get around far quicker and see more of the beautiful surrounding countryside while riding winery to winery.
The El Esteco winery, just outside of town, produces some of the region’s best malbecs. A tour includes a walk round the vineyards with knowledgeable guides and a visit to the outhouses where wines are aged in oak barrels. You can finish with a tasting session. The nearby Bodegas Etchart, where you can sample the highly-regarded local white Torrontés, is also well worth a visit.
A fair way south of Salta, Mendoza is one of the southern hemisphere’s most important wine producing regions and is still responsible for around 70 percent of Argentina’s production. Were it not for the fact the region is 750m above sea level, the heat and dry air would make the conditions for growing grapes impossible. It’s this altitude, and the cold nights that result, which enable longer growing seasons and a richer-flavoured grape.
The city of Mendoza is easily the best place to base yourself for visiting the surrounding wineries. You’ll be struck by the wide streets around the city centre - these were designed to help evacuation in the event of an earthquake, a not uncommon occurrence in Argentina’s most seismically active region. You’ll also notice the acequias; irrigation ditches built into the streets to water the city’s trees, as well as provide a kind of natural outdoor cooling system.
The major wine-producing towns, including Valle de Uco and Maipú, are all suitable for a day-trip. However, if you want to keep your visit fun and independent of large tour groups, you can quite simply jump on a bus going out of town and get off when you see a winery you like the look of, as nearly all allow visits and tastings. If you prefer a little more freedom, you can easily rent a car or bike. Bodegas Salentein is a good bet.
For a more comprehensive overview of Mendoza’s wine varieties, it’s a good idea to get out and stay in the small nearby towns of Luján de Cuyo and Maipú where you can take more in-depth winery tours at high-end vineyards and visit some great little museums.