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Can a new world wine be Grand Cru? Winemaker Gerald Gabillet responds

Traversing wine terminologies can be almost as intimidating as stepping into a whisky bar not knowing the difference between a Scotch and Bourbon. How is an old world wine different from the new world ones? How much does terroir affect the resulting taste of the wine? (Plenty, apparently) What in the world is a Grand Cru, and is it only reserved for old world wines? Now that is an answer that Cheval des Andes winemaker Gerald Gabillet may be able to provide.

The world of wines always had a high barrier to entry, designed for the most matured and refined of taste buds. The changing of wine trends can also be confusing for the casual wine drinker. Once upon a time, old world wines were considered a luxury for royalty. But now, new world wines are also increasing in popularity. And then, there’s the other pressing question of old world wines using new world trends and vice versa.

The Cheval des Andes winery in Mendoza, Argentina.. (Picture: Cheval des Andes)

But before all that, let’s get the basics sorted out: the difference between old world and new world wine. Old world wine generally refers to wines originating from Europe and the Mediterranean region — places with a long history of winemaking. It doesn’t necessarily mean a generalised style of winemaking, but more of the traditional philosophies of winemaking and terroir — the environmental factors that affect the crop.

In contrast, new world wine would generally encompass wines made from crops grown anywhere else outside of the old world wine territory — including Argentina, Australia, and the United States. While the old world style is to bank in on traditional philosophies when it comes to winemaking, new world wines tend to champion technology to make the crops work in their favour.

Then again, there are some new world wine territories that take on old world philosophies. One such brand is Cheval des Andes. A brainchild of Cheval Blanc and Terrazas de los Andes, the brand combines the savoir-faire of the former in blending and the latter’s Argentine high-altitude terroirs. Together, they create Cheval des Andes, a Grand Cru of the Andes region.

Gerald Gabillet is the newest winemaker to join Cheval des Andes. (Picture: Moet Hennessy Diageo)

As one who hails from Bordeaux, part of the old world wine territories, Gabillet could see for himself the difference. “My generation is lucky because we had all the knowledge of terroir passed down to us by our forefathers,” he says. “But when it comes to new world territories, you have to create this knowledge step-by-step. We can see now that Argentina is starting to have its own history, yet we still have much to discover.”

In the spirit of merging both old world and new world identities, Gabillet says that in Cheval des Andes, the new world element — that is, technology — lies more in the vineyard than in the winemaking process. “Our goal is to not intervene too much in winemaking,” he stresses. Instead, he says, they want to utilise the natural expression of the crops, hence why they intervene in the vineyard. “We want to enhance the quality of the fruit to have the best tannins. Then, winemaking becomes very easy.”

Unlike most Argentine wines that are generally known to be intensely flavoured, Cheval des Andes wants to go the opposite direction. “Often, (at Cheval des Andes) we speak about research on the complexity rather than intensity,” says Gabillet. “We think about a quiet ageing process and not to add too much oak, to preserve the natural expression of the wine.”

Cheval des Andes combines the savoir-faire of Cheval Blanc with the terroir of the high-altitude Andes region. (Photo: Mathieu Mamontoff/Cheval des Andes.)

For old world wines, it’s very easy to determine which ones are certified Grand Cru. It’s a regional wine classification made for vineyards that are known for their good reputation for producing wines. But for new world wine territories, that certification is a little harder to come by because it’s just so young. How then, we asked Gabillet, do you determine this new world wine as a Grand Cru? The short answer: It’s how much details you can control.

“When you think of producing a Grand Cru wine, you will want to include the natural expression of the place, the notion of terroir, its maximum disposition, and the very fact that the wine you smell and taste makes you think of a particular type of terroir,” he explains. This means knowing to control as many details in the entire winemaking process from the crops to the final blending process. Gabillet gives an example of how even a 10% difference in how much oak is added would change the entire process.

“All these details will add up, creating a Grand Cru wine,” says Gabillet, by way of explaining the new world Grand Cru.

PohNee Chin
Editor, Kuala Lumpur
Poh Nee is the editor and writes about travel and drinks. When she's not living out her holiday dreams via Google Earth and sipping on an Old Fashioned down at the local bars, you can find her snug at home bingeing on Netflix and mystery fiction.