Catamarca is a wine-producing region in the north-west of Argentina, on the slopes of the Andes. This remote and climatically challenging wine region started to export quality wines only recently, as, until the beginning of the century, it only produced table grapes and raisins. Vineyards in the Catamarca wine region are mostly on the banks of the Abaucan River, in the Fiambala region, and the more-productive sub-region in Catamarca, Tinogasta. Catamarca is a mountainous region, bordered to the west by the incredible Andes mountain range. As in other northern Argentinean regions, the mountain climate is mixed with a more desert-type of environment.
The word ‘Catamarca’ literally means “fortress on the slope” and it explains the geographical location of this unconventional wine region, located between two famous Argentinean wine regions: Salta and La Rioja. Most of the vineyards are planted very close to the Andes, and even though they cover a huge number of hectares, the grapes that grow are used to produce juice.
Only very recently, the wine production of the Catamarca wine region has increased, both in quality and in commercial expansion. This improvement was due to the rising number of plantations of Torrontes, Syrah and Malbec throughout the region.
The wine production might not be as high as in other wine-growing areas, but the Catamarca wine region has 4 sub-wine regions that are helping the production to grow in quantity and quality. The regions are: Tinogasta, Belen, Poman and Santa Maria. All the sub-regions of the Catamarca wine region posses an I.G. appellation.
Climate and Soil
The Catamarca wine region is a mountainous area, with a climate similar to the Jujuy wine region. The arid and desert-like climate requires winegrowers to provide their vines with a lot of irrigation during the daytime. Although it might seem impossible to grow healthy grapes in such a challenging environment, the dry conditions actually help grapes to fully ripe.
Soils in the Catamarca wine region are mostly sandy and full of pebbles. Only in some areas, some vines can be found in calcareous soils.
Red: Syrah, Malbec, Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon
Wines of Catamarca
Malbec is the king of the Catamarca wine region and it counts for at least half of the production. Malbec is juicy and fruit-forward as the aromas of red fruits and plums are very distinctive. Malbec aged in oak barrels so this adds spicy, tobacco, and leather aromas. The texture of the wine is very rich, due to the dry climate in which the grapes grow.
Other red wines from the Catamarca wine region, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Bonarda are very aromatic. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon has a very peculiar mint aroma.
Catedral Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Valle – Lady of Catamarca
This imposing cathedral dominates 25 de Mayo Square in the city of San Fernando del Valle. The big red neoclassical building was built in the mid 19th century. The façade is characterized by two “twin towers” that reach 42 meters in height.
The actual cathedral is the third one built on this site, as the first dates back to the 17th century. The importance of this cathedral lays in the statue of the Nuestra Senora del Valle, patron saint of the city.
Catamarca History Museum – A Place to Learn
The museum is located in the city of San Fernando del Valle and is entirely dedicated to the history of the Catamarca region, from its foundation until today.
The museum opened its doors in 1956 in a 19th century-built mansion. One of the main rooms of the museum is the one dedicated to the Governors of the province, from 1821 to 1966. Photographs, memorabilia, objects, everything inside the museum testify to life in Catamarca.
Nature to Discover
Campo de Piedra Pómez – White Desert
The Campo de Piedra Pómez is a vast protected area characterized by the accumulation of pumice stone. The area is very arid, has a very high daytime temperature, and doesn’t experience much rainfall. The origin of this pumice stone field is volcanic, probably due to the sedimentation from nearby volcanos.
Today, the number of visitors in the Campo de Piedra Pómez is very limited, as the area is a bit isolated. However, some expert hikers have planned some trails around the huge white pumice stone field for visitors to explore.
Reserva de Biosfera de la Laguna Blanca – Incredible Nature
The Laguna Blanca Biosphere Reserve is a protected area located in a depression on the eastern slopes of the Andes, between 3500m and 5500m above sea level. The center of the reserve is a salted lake surrounded by Andean peaks.
The Laguna Blanca Biosphere Reserve is part of the UNESCO MaB project, aimed at preserving the richest areas in the biosphere on the planet. This area has several aquatic bird fauna species that cannot be seen anywhere else and need to be protected.
Food to Try in the Catamarca Wine Region
Capia Corn – An Ingredient Full of History
Capia corn is a variety of corn very popular around Latin America, and especially in the Catamarca and Jujuy provinces. The Capia corn was grown and harvested by the indigenous population and lived here in the past.
Its peculiarity is that the corn itself has very big leaves and the plant it’s very tall. Kernels from the Capia corn are ivory white and pretty big compared to normal corn.
Añapa – A Fresh Speciality
If during your trip around Catamarca you want to try something local but different from wine, be sure to order an añapa. Añapa is a non-alcoholic beverage with a long tradition mostly made with the fruit from the white carob.
Añapa is the perfect refreshment on a hot and arid day in northern Argentina.