Whenever i need to escape from noisy, flashy Buenos Aires, where I live, I take the two-hour flight to the Mendoza region. It's not just the excellent wines and earthy cuisine that keep luring me back; it's also the arid, lunar landscape. The dusty towns and the low-slung adobe buildings, backed by the towering Andes, look like Argentina's version of a Sergio Leone Wild West panorama. Driving around the city of Mendoza—a traditional provincial capital in the middle of a sparsely populated, heavily irrigated desert—I'm reminded that winemaking is ultimately just farming framed with evocative adjectives.
Still, Mendoza has been changing. As its winemaking reputation has grown, thanks to the world-class bottlings made with Malbec and other grapes, the inevitable slew of hotels, restaurants and architecturally striking wineries have opened to serve the booming number of tourists.Recently, I went back to get another dose of the laid-back Mendoza life, drink some wine—and do a little recon.
After arriving in Mendoza's four-gate airport, I drive about 20 miles south to the two-year-old Cavas Wine Lodge. The ride takes me down the dirt road that divides two of Mendoza's best-known wineries: One is the squat red-and-tan bodega (winery) of Ruca Malén, co-owned by former Chandon Argentina chairman Jean Pierre Thibaud; the other is the new industrial hangar that houses American winemaker Paul Hobbs's Argentinean label, Viña Cobos.