Lay of the Land
“It seems only natural, in a place where stone fruit ripens in mid-February, to look into the starry night sky and find Orion suspended upside down, the tip of his sword pointing upward.”
The provincial capital of Mendoza lies a thousand kilometers to the west of Buenos Aires, just shy of the soaring snowcapped Cordón del Plata and the Chilean border. Somewhere between these two cities, the fertile pampas of Argentina’s lush, cattle-speckled heartland give way to a sun-baked sweep of clay and gravel that has, by the grace of its nourishing glacial rivers, established itself as South America’s preeminent terroir. Today Mendoza’s dusty desert foothills wear orderly ribbons of green, and the province, which has become a destination worthy of serious enoturistas, is home to some 1,500 wineries, a handful of landmark restaurants and a couple of Argentina’s most cosseting country escapes.
Most of Mendoza’s visitors arrive from Santiago or Buenos Aires, glimpsing their first vines in the small commercial airport’s landscaped parking lot. Between the airport and wine country is the city itself, a crisscross of gracious plazas, wide poplar-lined avenues and colonial-era irrigation canals (or “acequias“) that deliver snowmelt from the mountains, sustaining its improbable canopy of green.
Though downtown Mendoza has its charms, travelers with only a few days to explore will want to make their way quickly into the vineyards, which extend south from the city along the front range of the Andes. The region’s most historic wineries are clustered in Luján de Cuyo, less than an hour outside of town. Lately, many of them are sourcing at least some of their fruit from up-and-coming regions further south, where wine grapes benefit from even greater daily temperature extremes. In the pioneering Uco Valley, almost two hours away from the city, vineyards are planted at some of the highest elevations on earth. A few years ago this area had little to offer in the way of creature comforts, but these days, hotel and restaurant openings are luring more and more visitors south. Though the majority of Mendoza’s visitors choose a single home base, avid oenophiles should consider splitting their time—a couple of nights in Luján (at Cavas Wine Lodge) and a couple in the “Valle de Uco” (at the Vines Resort & Spa or Casa de Uco).