My second day in Argentina took me to Cheval des Andes. Considered the “New World Grand Cru,” the winery is located on 50 hectares in the Las Compuertas district of Luján de Cuyo. The vineyard is known for its polo fields and its kinship with Argentine style.
Cheval des Andes is a joint venture between Terrazas de Los Andes and the Cheval Blanc in France. Both Cheval and Terrazas are a division of the Moet & Chandon wine family.
At Cheval, I met the charismatic, Nicolas Audebert, who manages all aspects of the winemaking process. Cheval combines in one single wine: the French art of assemblage, and the creative innovation of the new world. As “The Grand Cru of the Andes is made up of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot depending on the year. The varieties separately age 18 months in French oak after which they are blended together and aged another six months. Once bottled, Cheval holds the wine for at least 18 months to enhance it Argentine Style.
Argentine Style Through Terroir
Unique to Cheval is its terroir. The soil is sandy and stony. Many of the vines were planted in the 1920s. Being one of the closest wineries to the Andes and one of the first of the Argentine water system with gate doors allowing water into the winery, the purity of the water plays an important part in the viticulture at the winery.
As Nico says, ”Wine is like cooking if you do not have the ingredients or the chef, you do not have what is needed to create a good meal.” This statement is true of making superb wines.
When Cheval de Andes purchased the property in 1999, the vineyard was not entirely planted. Nicolas being an avid polo fan and player, decided to utilize the barren area in the middle of the vineyard, creating a polo field in the middle of the winery.
It was a brilliant idea because it unites Argentina’s most popular sport with another of its favorite pastimes, drinking wine. Cheval means horse in French, so what better way to honor the symbol of the vineyard and winery than with a polo field. Of course, you cannot have a polo field without a stable of horses, and on any visit to this winery, you will not miss a glimpse at the equines residing on the property.
The tasting room is what I would call a tasting lounge that overlooks the polo field. One finds a casual contemporary feel accented with antiques and horse memorabilia. It is the perfect setting to sample the marvelous wines, especially since polo, as a sport is an art form. The winemaker’s ability to create the perfect blend of wine resembles the blending colors on a palette; also an artistic achievement.
Cheval des Andes Wine
I sampled both a 2008 and a 2003 Cheval de Andes. Both vintages are like a woman, very complex, feminine, intense, and expressive. Both vintages are like a woman, very complex, feminine, intense, and expressive. In 2008, because of a cool year, producing a very low yield. The wine reflects this. It was bold and very dark in color with flavors of plums, red berries, and spice. The wine is youthful and at the same time, elegant.
It was a warm year for the 2003 vintage where the yield was also smaller. To bring out the freshness, Nico added 20% Petit Verdot. Nico describes the wine as ” alive and soft with velvety tannins with hints of spice, tobacco, truffles, and mocha.” Both vintages were truly wines not to miss.
I found it befitting that I end my visit to Terrazas de Los Andes and Cheval des Andes with their best and most prestigious wine. With an Argentine style of its own, the elegance of the wine clearly came through.
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer was hosted to this wine tasting visit. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.