Cheval des Andes, lunch with Nicolas Audebert, winemaker
Back in September I was invited to a polo match and wine tasting in Richmond to meet the winemaker for Argentine winery, Cheval des Andes. I went, met their rather dashing French polo-playing winemaker, Nicolas Audebert, watched a polo match and had the pleasure of trying their wines. I never did get a chance to write it up because before I knew it, I was on a plane to Argentina and then another to Mendoza. That’s how I came to actually be in the Cheval des Andes vineyards at the foot of the Andes Mtns chatting with Nicolas once again about Cheval des Andes’ wines.
Nicolas and I had lunch on the terrace of the Cheval lodge, in the middle of the vines, overlooking the polo field and in the shadow of the Andes. The lodge was built in 2008 to welcome invited guests of Cheval des Andes. An open plan, polished tan wood and glass walled edifice, it’s the perfect place for a drink or to wander out to the terrace that faces the polo field to watch a match. Tastefully decorated with antiques, polo memorabilia and food and wine books, it’s a place to easily while away the afternoon, enjoying your glass of wine.
Cheval des Andes is a joint venture between Cheval Blanc and Terrazas los Andes begun in 1998. Terrazas was bought by Chandon in the 50’s but it’s winery goes back to the early 20th century and they still have vines reaching back to that time. Cheval des Andes was able to take advantage of these old vines and has a parcel of vines that date from the 1920’s. It is from these vines that Cheval takes it’s malbec for it’s blend. The wine is a bordeaux blend style of wine, malbec, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot making up the wine. The hope behind the wine is that they produce a wine that is distinctly South American but has the French wine making stamp on it. Nicolas came from Krug where he learned the art of assemblage and his aim is to bring that expertise to producing the best wines possible. In Nicolas’ opinion, Argentine wines all too often are overpowering wines, too much fruit, too much oak, too much everything. He wants finesse and balance. He says, “to go to extremes is easy,” it’s balance that is difficult to achieve.
Although the wine they are producing is a blend like the great French wines, Nicolas thinks that there is nothing wrong with having a bit of fun with his wines, kick back and enjoy what’s in the bottle. He doesn’t really care to get into the specifics of wine making. He’s far more interested in the experience of drinking his wine, whether you’re at a formal dinner or eating at home, wine should be a part of an enjoyable dining experience, not something to be revered or diligently dissected. He remarked that when he worked for Krug, at winemaker dinners, Remy Krug never talked about the assemblage of his champagne or the vineyards or even the grapes. He preferred to talk about everything but the wine, just drink it. As he told Nicolas, “if you’re going to drive a Lamborghini, you don’t ask about the brake system or check the wiring. You want to get in the car, feel the leather seats and go! Wine should be the same way.” If only we all had the chance to drive a Lamborghini. But at least it is a bit easier to try the Cheval des Andes wines.
I took Nicolas and Remy’s advice and just drank it. Well, I did think a little bit about the wine we were swilling. The 2006 Cheval des Andes was still too young with loads of juicy fruit along with a suppleness to it that you could just tell was going to mellow into an a fabulous wine. Even if a wine is drunk too young, you can still tell a well made, balanced wine. The 2001 Cheval des Andes, even if you wanted to mindlessly drink it, I don’t think that would be possible. Especially after having spent the last few weeks drinking Argentine malbec, what a difference! “Savoury, spunky and truffly but still has fruit” are what I have scrawled in my notes. Nicolas noted they’re trying to make a “wine across time”, beautiful, elegant structure, complex, excellent minerality, lovely black fruit, still very much alive, this is a wine built to last.
Needless to say, we finished off that bottle while we watched the clouds move in and cover the peaks of the Andes. Sometimes, it’s nice to just drink and savour a wine,isn’t it?
Visited Argentina or had an amazing Malbec? Tell me all about the wine you had in the comments section…