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Ric visits Chateau Cheval Blanc

September 18, 2016

This marks the beginning of a short but concentrated visit exclusively to the Right Bank of Bordeaux following a similar trip by the same group to Burgundy a year ago. Time truly flies. Within minutes of touching down at Merignac Aeroport on 16 September 2016, we were making our way to Saint Emilion to meet our lunch appointment at Chateau Cheval Blanc, scheduled for 1300h. At this time of year, the weather has turned decidedly cooler, the sky perpetually overcast with occasional bouts of very fine drizzle interspersed with brilliant shafts of sunshine whenever the sun broke cover. Throughout the plains, the predominant dark grapes of merlot hung low and heavily from the vines, waiting to be picked any time within the next week.

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M. Pierre Lurton (right)

Even though the Right Bank does not boast any imposing chateau, the estate of Cheval Blanc immediately stands out from its peers, thanks to its manicured lawn and aristocratic-looking buildings that suggests at once wealth, breed and sophistication. We were met upon our arrival by M. Pierre Olivier, the Technical Director of the estate, followed soon after by owner M. Pierre Lurton (who also runs Ch D’Yquem) himself.

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Cheval Blanc has the distinction of being the only wine that has cabernet franc as its main component in its blend with merlot making up the rest. Indeed, Pierre explained that more than half of the estate’s 39 ha of vines, split into 45 distinct plots, are planted with cabernet franc. Nobody really knows what prompted the estate to adopt cabernet franc as its main varietal. Perhaps it is because the soil here consists mainly of sand, clay and gravel, not the usual limestone composition that supports cabernet sauvignon. Nevertheless, Cheval Blanc has not changed its philosophy over the years and its cabernet franc certainly imparts a unique trace of spicy green pepper combined with velvety power during its youth, turning into a demure feminine beauty of great purity when the wine has matured. The grapes from each of the 45 plots are fermented in separate concrete vats housed in a brand new ultra-modern chai that is spotlessly clean. The wine in barrel is racked periodically and when we were there, racking was in progress for the 2015 sitting in barrel.

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We were hosted to a generous lunch at the chateau by Pierre, beginning first with the Krug Grand Cuvee as aperitif, displaying strong yeasty overtones, toasted oak and earth, crisp, lively and vigorous on the palate with excellent concentration of lime and green citrus, not too dry, finishing very well. This was followed by a 2010 Joseph Drouhin Clos des Mouches Blanc 1er that displayed notes of aged cheese and chalk on the nose, gentle on the palate with unusual subtlety with recessed minerals and early secondary characteristics though the acidity is excellent, taking on a caramelised note after some time but, on the whole, this is a shy wine.

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We opened the reds with a contrasting pair. The 2005 Ch Cheval Blanc displayed a lovely soft floral fragrance of young red fruits, strawberries and raspberries with a deeper core of tangerines on the palate, quite harmonious with silky supple tannins, developing a mild earthiness after some time although, at this stage, the crisp acidity is rather intense. Yet to settle down but this wine will be long lived.

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Racking of 2015 Cheval Blanc

In contrast, the 1975 Ch Cheval Blanc, fully mature, opened with a bouquet of mild earthy pungency coupled with a gentle rosy fragrance that was highly enticing, effortless and persistent, a hallmark of aged clarets. On the palate, the wine displayed a feminine elegance with good complexity, concentration and purity of fruit, not showy at all, remarkably poised and balanced but holding up very well, not at all in danger of fading, proving the longevity of cabernet franc.

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Bright and clear: 2015 Cheval Blanc from barrel

We concluded with a 2007 Ch D’Yquem which, of course, is part of Pierre Lurton’s stable. This Sauterne from this outstanding vintage possesses a generous expanse of nectarine, apricot, fig and glorious tropical fruits, absolutely fabulous in balance with lovely acidity, quiet intensity and concentration, exuding a great perfumed fragrance. Outstanding.

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I must thank Pierre Olivier for his time and generosity and FICOFI as well for making this visit possible.

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