There's this moment -- it happens after you've looked out the window for too long -- when you realize the clouds aren't clouds, they're the Andes. Giant, burlap knuckles of earth done up in dust and sunshine. It's December, just days from Christmas, and in Argentina this means signs of summer: poplars, willows, and miles of Malbec, growing in bright green rows.

If you've had Malbec in the past five years, there's a good chance it came from these mountain plains. The grape's not out there alone (search the vineyards and you'll find Cabernet, Viognier, even Sangiovese) but it's the only one the locals call The King. The Flagship. The Taste of Argentina. Malbec has become such a symbol of the country, it's planted just feet from the arrivals hall at Mendoza's airport; land here and you'll be greeted by Argentina's most successful new ambassador.