Mendoza in the foothills of the Argentinian Andes is my kind of place. Aside from the ravishing scenery – viewed, ideally, from horseback – it offers some of the country’s most delicious and neatly crimped empanadas, washed down by industrial quantities of juicy, fruity Malbec.
Wine courses through the veins of Mendoza and it’s what brings most people here. There’s no shortage of places waiting to take you through the whole winemaking process – many also have restaurants – but one that stands out from the crowd is Bodega Lagarde in Luján de Cuyo, just south of Mendoza City.
This family-owned estate was founded in 1897 and is one of Mendoza’s oldest; today it’s run jointly by Lucila and Sofia Pescarmona, who offer lunch alongside the usual visits and tastings. In addition to the usual visits and tastings, there were always a few tables set in an outside courtyard in the dappled shade of a huge tree – and recently two sisters have developed the courtyard (first picture) and added a full-blown restaurant named Fogón (referring to the wood-fired stove and oven, in which much of the food is cooked) to which they have added a luminous indoor dining room (second picture).
Their idea is simple: “We both love good food – and, of course, beautiful wines – but we hate formality,” explains Lucila. “We wanted to recreate the kind of family Sunday lunches we always loved at home,” adds Sofia. Bread is baked fresh daily, chunks of marbled meat are smacked on the fire and Lagarde wines flow freely. But what I loved most of all when I visited last year were the salads, vegetables and fruit from the Lagarde kitchen garden, on which chef Juan Montigel lavishes just as much TLC as the meat.
Right now, the mid-autumn lunch menu (from £21) features a carpaccio of baby courgettes with ricotta and lemon vinaigrette; beef filet a la plancha (third picture) with a Catalan-inspired salsa romesco based on the last of the season’s tomatoes, with almonds and peppers, and grilled cornbread; and a flan made with dulce de leche to round things off. The food is paired with house wines: besides the world-class Malbecs, some from centenarian vines, there is a fine Chardonnay/Pinot Noir sparkler and some super whites, among which my vote goes to Viognier – the aromatic white grape from France’s Rhône Valley, proudly introduced into Argentina by Lucila and Sofia’s father.