I recently had the fortune to travel to Argentina for an international wine adventure! The second day of this unforgettable journey in Argentina took me to Cheval des Andes a winery located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. 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 the French art of assemblage and the creative innovation of the new world into a single wine.
The Grand Cru of the Andes comprises 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 and aged another six months. Once bottled, Cheval holds the wine for at least 18 months to enhance its 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 Mountains 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 Cheval des Andes.
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 also true of making superb wines. Without excellent grapes and expertise in the field, wine is just nothing special. Luckily, Cheval des Andes has the benefit of both, and their wines are spectacular.
This statement is also true of making superb wines. Without excellent grapes and expertise in the field, wine is just nothing special. Luckily, Cheval des Andes has the benefit of both, and their wines are spectacular as a result.
When Cheval de Andes purchased the property in 1999, the vineyard was not entirely planted. Nicolas, 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 beautiful 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. As an artist, I can’t help but think of the winemaker’s ability to create the perfect blend of wine that resembles the blending of colors on a palette; also an artistic achievement.
Cheval des Andes Wine
I found it befitting that I ended 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.
I sampled both a 2008 and a 2003 Cheval de Andes. Both vintages are like a woman: very complex, feminine, intense, and expressive. In 2008, because of a cool year, they produced 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, with a smaller yield. 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 represented wines not to miss.
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received a hosted wine-tasting visit. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.