(September 25 – written by Dave)
Yesterday we survived food coma. Today we survived wine coma. It was tough duty.
Our AirB&B host, Rodrigo, also a sommelier, came by our place this afternoon with four bottles of local wine for us to try – 1 white and 3 reds.
The white was a Torrontes from nearby Cafayate. Cafayate is considered a high altitude wine growing region and the Torrontes is the region’s most famous grape/wine. The region is known for high altitude, high afternoon winds, low rainfall and big daily temperature swings – in other words a tough place to grow grapes. Or said differently, the grapes that survive here are tough, ripen slower and have thick skins. This all contributes to a unique flavour and a pretty good wine – for a white wine – haha.
Today we learned that nearly 70% of all Argentinean wine produced is exported. Wine consumption locally is less than a ¼ today than it was 30 years ago. People today live busier lives and want a healthier life style and they simply drink less. Additionally, the value of Argentinean wines internationally has led to a very profitable export trade. There are some small boutique wineries that sell locally and only through the cellar door but on balance, more wine leaves Argentina than is consumed here – the largest market is the USA and the largest export is Malbec.
Which brings us to the reds. We sampled two Malbecs and a Tannat. All three of them were from Cachi, another high altitude region that is just north of Cafayate. All three of them were considered big. They were all from different wineries and made with completely different processes – one was seasoned in oak barrels, another in concrete tanks and the last in stainless steel tanks. And one of the wines was a blend of wine from grapes picked at three different times during the season – completely different than most wines that we know.
We liked all three of the reds, but mostly enjoyed the “reserve” Malbec. Here in Argentina, “reserve” on the label means that the wine was seasoned in oak. The oak gives the wine a more earthy taste and smooths out the tannins – or so we learned tonight.
High altitude grapes are harder to grow consistently and thus wine is harder to make consistent from these regions. There is a “marketing” war of sorts between the high altitude regions of Argentina and Bolivia – over who has the highest vineyard. But truth be known, the vast majority of wine is grown worldwide in the range of 400 metres above sea level and folks growing wine at altitude are probably making things harder on themselves, while producing a product this is a unique more to experts than us mere mortals.
Rodrigo clearly knows his stuff and was patient with our beginner questions. We know what wine we like to drink in Australia but often struggle when we travel to new places. Even with the same grapes, there are always regional differences in how wine styles have developed. So having an expert take us through some of his favourites and teach us was really educational. And we didn’t do too poorly on the smell and taste tests when Rodrigo asked us what we were sensing – he is either a good teacher or maybe we’re not too old to learn some new tricks.
So, armed with more wine knowledge than when we arrived, we head south again tomorrow. We have really enjoyed Salta – it’s a small town with a great relaxed vibe, a comfortable place just to hang out (and eat empanadas, of course). We are three days from Cafayate and excited about the route. Naturally, Rodrigo didn’t stop with wine information; he gave us some good tips for the road ahead as well. We probably won’t drink any wine in the next couple days but Rodrigo has informed us that in Cafayate, many of the cellar doors are only short walks from town – so our research can be continued without worry of riding a bicycle after testing more new wines.
And even though we are in high altitude wine growing region, tomorrow we stay at what for us is low altitude. We are looking forward to a warmer day and maybe more riding in shorts and short-sleeves. It was 100F here two days ago but much cooler the last two days. It’s spring and the weather is going to be changeable for the foreseeable future. But for sure we will be warmer than we have been for the last several months!