Cheval des Andes, Mendoza, Argentina 2008 ($80)
This deep ruby-colored wine, with hints of garnet, displays a breadth of aromatics with smoke, cigar box, pencil shavings, cherry jam, eucalyptus, and fig coming through. It is dry and full-bodied with a taught acidity. The wine has structure and a round, velvety texture. The tannins are elegant, and smooth. On the palate, the wine is fruity and concentrated with notes of cassis, wood, spice, and earth. The finish is long and fruit driven. Overall, it’s a harmonious wine. Enjoy now, will improve for five years, and hold for another five. Pair with grilled red meats, sausage and mushroom risotto, or rosemary-braised lamb shanks.
The blend is based on malbec and cabernet sauvignon, and the producer may add small quantities of merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot depending on the vintage. The 2008 back label states a blend of 50 percent cabernet sauvignon and 50 percent malbec. The two grape varieties make distinct contributions to the character of this wine; the malbec offers up red fruit and softness while the cabernet sauvignon is providing structure and complexity.
Cheval des Andes is the product of a joint venture between the prestigious Château Cheval Blanc of Bordeaux and Terrazas de los Andes in Argentina. In the 1990s, Pierre Lurton (Managing Director at Château Cheval Blanc and Château d’Yquem) looked for terroir outside of France in which to make wine. He was taken by the idea of using pre-phylloxera, ungrafted malbec. A collaboration was born, and the first vintage of Cheval des Andes was produced in 1999. The grapes are sourced from Las Compuertas Vineyard in Vistalba. The collaboration aims to create a “Grand Cru” of the Andes, or a marriage of Bordeaux winemaking techniques with the rich fruit of Argentina. Altitude is key to quality in Mendoza; higher altitudes mean cooler nights, preserving acidity, and developing finesse. Pierre Lurton still periodically consults with chief winemaker Nicolas Audebert.
The 2008 Cheval des Andes is a well-made, premium-priced wine. Stylistically, it offers the ripe fruit-forwardness of the New World with an eye to the Old World. The challenge for this self-named and ambitious “Grand Cru”, because of its strong Bordeaux inspiration and association, is that it places itself in competition with Bordeaux, even though it is using malbec much more substantially. It opens itself up to comparisons. For the same price, you can get a very fine Bordeaux. Does this wine justify its cost? It does, for consumers looking specifically for this type of blend in a fruit-forward style.
Cheval des Andes imports 1,500 cases to the U.S. and is available nationwide.