While Argentina’s annual grape harvest tends to focus on Mendoza’s ream of activities, there’s another festival worth checking out — in Cafayate, Salta.
Instead of the carnivalesque atmosphere that the country’s principal grape-growing region instigates, Salta’s wine route aims to have a much longer-lasting effect.
The second edition of Vendimia Solidaria Valles Calchaquíes will bring together restaurants, wineries and hotels in and around the Cafayate region, which, besides cooking up veritable feasts and hosting activities, will also donate a percentage of each of the 11 tasting menus to the Fundación Cafayate charity run by Cristina Rodríguez de Acuña.
I was given a sneak preview ¦and if you haven’t yet visited this altitudinous north-western region that’s often called Mars on Earth for its crazy red rock formations, now might be the time to do so.
The big names
From March 13-24, big names in Salta wine-making will open their doors for an array of vitivinicultural activities. Bodega Colomé, Finca Quara, El Porvenir de Cafayate, Domingo Molina, Piattelli, Domingo Hermanos, Bodega José L. Mounier, El Esteco and Tukma will all be doing their part, as will local hospitality giants Grace, La Estancia de Cafayate and Altalaluna.
Take El Porvenir de Cafayate. While guided visits usually take place at the winery, during Vendimia Solidaria you can check out the winery’s stunning country home just a stone’s throw from downtown. It’s not all kicking back and pretending you’re a winemaker — 300 pesos gets you some actual harvest snipping action as well as lunch at a jewel of a private home set among grape vine arbours. 12pm, March 14.
Over at Domingo Molina, whose lofty location offers a superb view of the Lerma valley below and is also home to a 100-year-old vine, book in for some bodega action and grape sorting followed up by a well-earned charcuterie selection. 250 pesos, 6pm, March 14.
Vasija Secreta, one of Cafayate’s longest-established bodegas that started life in 1857, will host a similar harvest and picada experience on March 15 at 10am, 250 pesos.
Later that same evening, La Estancia de Cafayate will be hosting a cocktail evening amid its multitudinous sand dunes located to the east of the estate, a unique experience if ever there was one. 250 pesos, 9pm, March 14.
Other events include blind tastings and a series of wine-themed movies at the Museo de la vid y el vino vine and wine museum; lunch and a horsemen’s display at La Estancia de Cafayate; harvesting followed by a barbecue under the carob trees at Altalaluna; jazz evenings at Cafayate’s newest winery Piattelli; and creating your own blend at Finca Quara.
For a bite
As for dinners, the following restaurants and venues are all participating in the three-step solidarity menu for the duration of March: La Estancia de Cafayate, Grace Hotel, Patios de Cafayate, Piattelli, El Retoño De Nanni, Terruño, La Carreta de Don Olegario, Macacha, Bacco, Viñas De Cafayate and Altalaluna.
Grace Cafayate in particular is offering up menu and room deals from March 13-24. Chef Javier Robles is in charge of culinary proceedings at Grace, and plenty of thought has gone into the solidarity menu (350 pesos) given his focus on local ingredients.
Take the bean salad starter. Backed up by meaty llama ham, goat’s cheese and grapes, this is a dish with Cafayate stamped all over it. Another cracker in Robles’ solidarity menu is the delectable pear and blue cheese ravioli drizzled with a Torrontés syrup and toasted sesame seeds, classic ingredients that have taken on new forms.
Over at Altalaluna, which is set to change its name later this year to Tukma Casa de Vino, chef Lalo Angelino is also focusing on local products such as wild herbs, goat’s cheese and pork with wine reductions featuring throughout.
The solidarity tasting menu includes an excellent pairing between the Tukma 2670 Sauvignon Blanc 2014 and a lettuce, rocket, salt-cured courgette, red onion, wild herbs and goat’s cheese marinated in lavender flowers. This high-acid white wine from Huacalera, Jujuy, whose aromas are predominantly peas and asparagus — very unusual for Argentina — is a perfect match for this very fresh salad.
A more robust meaty offering is pork loin in a Torrontés jus supported by crunchy kiwicha (a quinoa relative) popcorn. Accompanied by a barrel-fermented Torrontés, this was a dish that really lifted the pork away from its usual plum accompaniment into a new fruity dimension.
These are just two of the tasting menus available during Vendimia Solidaria Valles Calchaquíes, and besides eating and drinking while helping a charitable foundation in one of the most stunning regions in Argentina, it’s also a rare opportunity to get involved with some vineyard activities.
Contact details All activities and tasting menus require reservations. Contact Cristina Rodríguez de Acuña on email via email@example.com or telephone 0387 15 573-8789. For more info visit www.destinovinos.com