In Love, in Argentina

He likes mountain climbing, she likes relaxation and romance. Can this tomato-tomahto marriage be saved? Yes, says Ann Hood, who finds a spot that suits them in the wine region of the Andes

By Ann Hood
Hood and her husband take a time-out at Achaval-Ferrer Winery
Photograph: Bill Phelps

THE next morning, I don’t mention the hotel’s brochure that lists zip lines and mountain bikes. Instead, I show Lorne our itinerary: visits to three wineries, with lunch at the second one. The roads here are unpaved and unmarked, so we let the hotel arrange a driver for us. Emilio takes us to the Mendel winery, where a longhaired beauty named Cecelia greets us. The estate produces a relatively small quantity of very fine wine, all made in a 1915 adobe building. Cecelia tells us that Mendel wine is made in a traditional way: The grapes are picked by hand, not machines, and aged in French oak barrels. “It’s much more romantic,” she says, offering us a glass of a 2007 Malbec. “The aroma will make you fall in love.”

Love is the most important ingredient in winemaking, says Cecelia. I am happily sampling a 2004 Malbec, doing a vertical tasting (sampling the same wine from different years). When Cecelia hears me moan with delight, she laughs. “Malbec is a wine for women. Elegant. Romantic. You come home from work, open a bottle and have a glass as you sit alone and imagine the night ahead.”

At the next vineyard, Melipal, we miss the Mendel winery’s small size and homey atmosphere, and the tour reminds me of racing through the Hershey chocolate factory. Still, we love our lunch of chilled tomato-and-apple soup, served with a rosé, followed by three more courses, each served with a different Malbec: wild-mushroom and vegetable ceviche with red-beet bubbles; chicken and fig terrine; and grilled beef tenderloin. Even the strawberry mousse has a Malbec syrup.

By the time we get to Achaval-­Ferrer, we are full and tipsy. We fall lazily into plump white cushioned chairs on the stone patio and let lovely Patricia bring us tastings of the winery’s Malbecs, which have won high praise from oenophiles (for good reason, we decide). It is 4 o’clock when we reluctantly finish our tastes of Dolce, this vineyard’s sweet dessert wine, and stagger into the car. After six hours, we have done everything except bathe in wine. So that is precisely what we do next.

THE Cavas Wine Lodge is, as Mary Poppins would say, practically perfect in every way. Bottles of wine await you in your room after a long day of, well, wine tasting. Pools glitter aquamarine in the sun. Employees greet you when you arrive and make sure you have everything you need. And there is a spa that looks as if it belongs in a palace, all white marble and sandalwood incense. This is where Lorne and I take our half-drunken selves to be scrubbed with Malbec grapeseeds before soaking in a hot bubble bath filled with red wine extracts. In side-by-side tubs, we sink into the deep purple water, which, remarkably, leaves no stain on the white towels. I glance over at Lorne, and my heart fills with pride and love. That he enjoyed the past three weeks—the arduous and dangerous climb, the freeze-dried food and the night in a tent while a blizzard raged—is beyond my understanding. But to be here with him afterward, to see him safe and sated, makes me happy. “Hey,” I say, “it’s good to see you, honey.” My husband smiles, then once again begins to snore.

 

A CLOSE second to Malbec in Argentina is beef. That night, we leave the lodge to join one of Lorne’s climbing guides in the city of Mendoza, at a restaurant called La Barra. Alejo and his wife, Genevieve, an avid climber who was with them on Aconcagua, are from Ecuador. The four of us sit with other diners at long wooden tables under a roof that’s been opened to show off the sky and stars. Grapevines snake around us. The plates are slabs of wood, and as an endless parade of grilled meats—pork, ribs, steak—appears, the three of them relive their moments on the mountain. Genevieve, with all the passion of her 27-year-old self, tells me that I must write about how important it is to climb mountains. “Is that your intention?” she demands. “Not at all,” I explain. “I have no interest in climbing mountains.” She and Alejo stare at me in disbelief. They begin to tell me what I am missing.

 

First Published May 24, 2011

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