Hi wine lovers! Here I am, reporting from a new location, on a new adventure. I took a direct flight from the City of Mendoza to San Salvador de Jujuy to finally try the wines from the Quebrada de Humahuaca and while I’m at it, enjoy one of Argentina’s most treasured landmarks.
I came here lured by promises of multi-colored mountains, small houses that blend in with the earth and spell-binding silence, but as soon as I’d looked it up on Google, I found that there was also a wine region to explore. What more could I ask?
Jujuy is to the north of the country and its mountain deserts have thrilled travelers from all across the world. Just over 60 miles from the airport, we find the Quebrada de Humahuaca, an Andean valley that runs 70 miles at an altitude of 6500 feet above sea level surrounded by mountains full of browns, reds, violets, greens, pinks and yellows.
It was declared part of the Humanity’s Cultural and Natural Heritage by UNESCO and is kind of an auburn sea populated by cacti, llamas, guanacos, vicuñas, condors, jackals and falcons.
I fell in love with its brightly colored textiles and crafts, the melodies of erke and charango instruments, and the warmth of its people, who have a gentle lilt to their voice and live at their own pace.
Here’s something you’re going to love: in the towns of Quebrada, especially Purmamarca, Tilcara and Humahuaca, we find fairs, markets, wine stores and regional delicatessens full of local produce on which to picnic like goat’s cheese, cayote jelly, crunchy quinoa, tortillas and, of course, wines that pair perfectly with the landscape.
The wines from the Quebrada de Humahuaca
In terms of climate, this is a mountainous, desert region with plenty of sunlight and a sharp difference in temperature between day and night (you’ll often find that frosty nights are followed by 30 degree days) so you need to pack winter and summer clothes!
About 20 years ago, viticulture arrived in the region; an adventurous prospect in this inhospitable, rural, high-altitude terrain. Wines from the Quebrada de Humahuaca require enormous effort and the results, as one might expect, have a unique personality. Let me tell you about my experiences there.
Bodega Fernando Dupont
This winery is in Maimará, in the Department of Tilcara, which is famous for a colorful mountain known as the “Painter’s Palette”. On the guided tour and tasting, I learned that they pioneered the production of fine wines in the Quebrada, choosing to plant Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cabernet Franc.
The most iconic labels are Pasacana, Punta Corral and Sikuri. My favorite was Sukuri, a unique Syrah that enjoys the high-altitude terroir and they say goes very well with the empanadas of quinoa and criollo cheese one sees in every bar and restaurant.
On my visit, I met the owners, Fernando Dupont and Amelia Janco, and we chatted forever! Amelia told me that the women of the region have formed the group “Quebradeñas del Vino” which works to promote the quality wines of the area.
They do extremely interesting things: organizing gatherings in which they combine traditional cuisine and lesser-known dishes with roots in the Puna and Quebrada cultures – and pair them with local wines. “These recipes are the pillars of our culture and we work hard to preserve them.”
The money they raise goes to local schools and organizations, it’s great!
The Andean Dawn
During my research, I found that a must-visit stop was “El nuevo progreso”, a lovely restaurant in the plaza of Tilcara where art is given pride of place and the cooking – by the award-winning chef Flor Rodríguez – is highly rated.
It was there, looking through the wine list to find something to go with my fried beetroot malfatti, that I found a Cabernet Sauvignon-Bonarda very popular in the area, which is practically sold out in local wineries, made by the Mendozan oenologist Lucas Niven.
Naturally, I wanted to find out more about the winery on Ruta Nacional 9 near Tumbaya – the first town you come to in the Quebrada going north from San Salvador – on the other side of the Río Grande, on the eastern slopes. They grow Bonarda, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, aging the wines in French and American barrels.
Villa del Cielo
I went to Huichaira, 6 miles from Tilcara at a height of 8800 feet for a comprehensive hotel, food and wine experience in a cinematic setting. The Eco Wine & Hotel Boutique run by Sara Jorge and Alejandro Nieva is a stunning jewel with its own vineyards and winery.
In addition to the comfortable rooms and cabins, all exquisitely decorated with private terraces, the sauna, covered pool and solarium, you can also rest easy in the knowledge that it’s run along sustainable and environmental principles that conserve water and energy, and waste is separated and recycled.
When it comes to the wine, Huichaira Vineyard is a boutique, two-hectare establishment where they grow Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. I loved the vineyard tour, which included a picnic among the cacti and a tasting.
Their first wine, Cielo Arriba, has one of the cutest and most original labels I’ve seen to date. Make sure you taste their assemblage of Malbec with Syrah and Cabernet Franc made by Diana Bellincioni, a local oenologist and the collaborator with the winemaker Alejandro Sejanovich, whose Sacha Tigre de Criollas de la Quebrada I also made a note to seek out.
Why not try the wines from the Quebrada de Humahuaca yourself? They come highly recommended.
Until next time, cheers!