If there was any doubt I'm in a carnivorous country, it's shed when my guide in Salta - a 100-percent-normal, 34-year-old guy - whips out a facon to cut his meat at a parrilla in charming San Lorenzo, just outside town. Gauchos, as Argentine cowboys are known, use this large knife first to slaughter their herd, later to cut up said herd for consumption, and then for protection anywhere else along the way - should the need arise. After lunch, he cleans it with bread (never water, I learn - it dulls the knife) and slides it back into the leather case on his belt. I immediately ask him where I might procure one for myself. "In Cafayate," he says, where I just so happen to be heading next.
Highway 68 runs south from Salta City to the wine region of Cafayate, one of Salta Province's most important wine areas. The three-hour drive is spectacular. Wild herds of llamas and goats roam free through the Cafayate Ridge, a gorge cutting right through the Andes that can only be described as Grand Canyon-esque. Up a dusty desert road from town sits San Pedro de Yacochuya winery, another Franco-Argentine affair. There's no tasting here, but 80 pesos ($27) will secure lunch, wine, and yet another amazing view.
After lunch, it's off to Estancia Colomé, a boutique hotel and winery that boasts the highest vineyards in the world at 9,892 feet (the lodge sits at 7,546). Swiss winemaker Donald Hess purchased this property - located deep in the Andes and miles from nowhere - in 2001. To reach it from Cafayate, it's a 75-mile ride on deserted dirt roads through Quebrada de Las Flechas (Arrow's Gorge), one of the most incredible landscapes I have ever seen. Imagine if a giant gaucho whipped out his facon and began arbitrarily slicing up rock formations, and you'll have an idea of what this little-known geological wonder looks like.
Hess has turned Colomé into a self-sufficient, biodynamic winery and luxury nine-room boutique hotel literally at the end (and on top) of the world. For a wine lover, it's pure paradise. The gorgeous property in the Calchaquí Valley, decked out in indigenous yellows, reds, and beiges, is sandwiched between the two most spectacular Andes ranges this trip has produced. There is nothing to do here but sit back with a bottle of Hess's Amalaya de Colomé, a heart-stopping red blend, and gaze at what is truly the most eye-popping view in the modern wine world. This time, I've really found it.