It is the perfect time and the perfect place to enjoy a premium Argentina red blend.
We are on the rooftop of a six-story Soho loft on a sunny afternoon. As winemaker Nicolas Audebert pours a second glass of his 2007 Cheval des Andes, the aromas from winery chef Marcos Zabaleta’s almost-ready-to-eat bife de chorizo from genuine Argentina cattle waft over from his grill as we finish the last of his chimichurri with sweetbreads and chorizo and portabella empenadas.
And then, as I put my lips to the glass, the earth moves. And the table on the rooftop begins to shake.
Audebert and I look at each other with that old familiar feeling — earthquake! — which we later find has been sent our way from Virginia. It probably isn’t the setting, or the wine, or our noontime asado — but, hey, just sayin’…
Cheval des Andes is the New World cousin of highly-pedigreed French stock. It was founded in 1999 and is co-owned by Pierre Lurton (director of Château Cheval Blanc and president of Château d’Yquem) and Moët Hennessy Wine Estates. Only one wine is made from its single vineyard in the highlands (just over 3,000 feet) near Vistalba south of Mendoza city. Consisting of 93 acres, about 40 of them were planted in 1929 to Malbec. The rest are also in classic Bordeaux varieties — Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.
Although he blended the 2006 vintage, the 2007 — the current release — is the first complete vinification for the Provence-born Audebert, whose early winemaking was in Champagne. He has the lithe athleticism and the three-day-old stubble of a professional soccer player, but his sport of choice is polo. “We have a polo field in the middle of the vineyard on the place where we decided not to build a winery,” he says, instead using a sister facility, Terrazas, for Cheval’s small production. He also explains the importance of altitude in the cycling of hot and cool air in the vineyards on a daily basis, something normally done by large nearby bodies of water. “This is the only major wine region that does not have ocean influences,” he says.
The 2007 is delicious — bright cherry fruit in the front with savory notes and hints of tobacco in the finish and mild tannins. “It’s difficult to define the differences between savory and green,” Audebert says, but we decide that “dried herbs” comes close. He jumps up and stalks through the rooftop garden — the loft is owned by friends — and comes back with a few sprigs. “We often find rosemary in our wines,” he says, “and touches of grapefruit skin.”
Of course, the Cheval des Andes goes great with the charred-on-the-outside, rare-on-the-inside beef. Chef Zaboleta is excited that he was able to find authentic Argentine beef, spices, and other authentic ingredients at El Gauchito in Elmhurst, Queens.
But the next time, we decide, we will have to do our asado at the winery in Mendoza and perhaps catch a polo match. And there are also earthquakes there.