Salta, in Argentina, has wines with an unlikely landscape – 12/14/2022 – Josimar Melo

I’ve never been to an oasis in the African desert. I only “know” them through photos and fantasies from literature and cinema. Even so, two weeks ago I felt like I was in the middle of one of them — but far from Africa: it was the north of Argentina.

Guided by Pablo Rivero, owner of the Buenos Aires restaurants Don Julio and La Preferida de Palermo, but also an enthusiastic sommelier for Argentine wines, I visited the province of Salta, and, from its homonymous capital, I headed two hundred kilometers south to the municipality of Cafayate, of wines as good as little known here.

Salta—nested on the ridges of mountains that herald the Andes— It is an important wine region. The capital is already a large city, with about 750,000 inhabitants, and known for an architecture that, summarized in its central square, shows traces of the history of Spanish colonization until today.

As for gastronomy, it delights visitors with its famous empanadas. But it also has contemporary experiences such as the restaurant El Baqueano, which on top of a hill overlooking the city landscape serves daring dishes by chef Fernando Rivarola, based on the radical choice of exclusively local products.

And then there are the wines —but then it’s worth heading south to Cafayate. The mountainous altitude landscape is impressive, as I saw in the Alto Río Seco vineyard, from the El Porvenir winery: rugged, stony, dusty, with the mantle of vines torn by the eruption of isolated rocks or gigantic cacti similar to the Brazilian mandacaru, five meters high. height and thick thickness.

But in another vineyard belonging to the same winery, Alto los Cuises, at 1,850 meters above sea level, there is a lush area that, like an oasis in the desert (according to the literature), is nestled on a slope from which the scarce water in the region flows.

It reminded me of that oasis, or perhaps a Garden of Eden (which, if it had existed, would have been around Africa itself): vines thrive next to fig trees laden with sinful fruits, among various cacti (including, in addition to the mandacaru, the palm that we have in northeastern Brazil), mixed with flowers and other fruits.

Leafy trees provide the shade under which we taste exceptional wines born in those surroundings —such as the Laborum line, with four malbecs from neighboring soils, with their own personalities—, the work of owner Lucía Romero and perfectionist winemaker Paco Puga.

Without an oasis, but with a rustic and even more rugged landscape, there was another visit worthy of note, to the Quebrada de San Luís vineyard, owned by the Vallisto winery. Pancho Lavaque is the owner and winemaker responsible for several lines of bold Cafayate wines.

And, in this vineyard at an altitude of 1,900 meters, among shards of crockery from before the incas, from the remains of pre-Columbian buildings, sharp stones and soil treated by sheep that graze peacefully among the vines, some of the most daring are born.

They are made by the In(culto) winery, from Lavaque, with another visionary winemaker from Mendoza, Matias Michelini, with grapes such as malbec, torrontés and criolla from biodynamic culture.

These “landscape wines” come from neighboring microplots, sometimes with only differences in inclination towards the sun; and get their name (and photo) from some detail of the landscape in that little corner (as is the case with malbec El Abrazo, a pure fruit wine, without wood, whose label depicts a vineyard with huge intertwined cacti).

From unthinkable altitudes, with a rigorous climate, harsh soil and lunar landscapes, the human hand can extract great wines, sometimes stirring very little, just letting nature express itself.

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