In praise of Valles Calchaquíes – Salta

A visit by a wonderful old lady from Salta, Northern Argentina set me thinking about wines from the North this week. Vicenta, a lady who makes 900 empanadas a day in her native town of Cachi, has never set foot outside the province. Yet she was persuaded to take a small plane onto Buenos Aires,

She was there to demonstrate the art of the empanadas Salteno. The mother of all empanadas, they are at their best from this amazing region, which drew huge appreciative audiences from all over the world. But in order to be appreciated in all its glory they need to be pair with wine from this region.

I know I have blogged about the more extreme vineyards of this region before, but I would like to feature 3 red wines this week that I think give a measure of what is happening in this beautiful place.

My first ever visit to a vineyard, ever, was in Salta. This was back in 1999 taking my German inlaws on their first trip around Argentina. Of course, my ignorance did not appreciate the harshness or the unique nature of this terroir, but repeated visits have made me appreciate me the Wonder of this place.

Cafayate is at the heart of wine – making in this province. A pretty little town that over the years has prospered, not least because everyone in Argentina and beyond is investing heavily in vineyards here. Yet as a percentage of wine made in Argentina, Salta as a region just about produces 1 %. And still they find themselves on wine menus around the world.

This is because Salta is truly unique. Altitudes range from 1700 to the dizzying heights of over 3000m asl. Rainfall is a scarce 150mm a year. And this area is very remote. But I don’t think a visit to Argentina is complete without visiting this place.


This wine is from vineyards around the town of Cafayate itself. Fresh, light, fruity and agile. Wonderfully balanced acidity, good structure with a lingering finish. It pairs wonderfully with spicy food and specially with Humita Empanadas made of corn with Cachi Paprika.


The grapes for this wine were sourced from two vineyard areas. Yacochuya, just outside Cafayate at 2000m asl, and an area called Quebrada de las Flechas, situated on the route 40 between San Carlos, a little town that nearly made it as chosen Capital of Argentina ( It missed out by one vote ), and the town of Molinos, famous for its Vicuña wool. This in an old river bed, and seems the most unlikely place for a vineyard, yet it produces grapes of extraordinary purity. In 2011 I blended this Malbec with Rafael Domingo in a beautiful and small new winery built for their high – end wines. The wine was rested in oak for 12 months. Clean and Bright black fruits, very pure blackberry and dark cherry, with that characteristic beetroot and black olive savoury finish.


Tannat is a red wine grape, historically grown in South West France in the Madiran AOC, and is now one of the most prominent grapes in Uruguay, where it is considered the "national grape".  Manual harvesting with selection of clusters, fermentation and aging in oak barrels at controlled temperature, are the characteristics that make this great varietal wine even more special. Intense, dark colors and reddened reflections in the glass. Large expression ripe and complex tannins, long and persistent finish.This wine is on peak form, and is ageing very gracefully.

All of these wines are available for tasting with your hosts this week, and of course are drinking beautifully.

Happy drinking


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