For me, Julia Harding’s captivating review of a barrel sample of the sublime 2011 vintage of Château Cheval Blanc explains the irresistible allure of this famous St Émilion blend for the past 150 years:
Deep dark cherry crimson. Delicately floral and fruity, so subtle but gently aromatic. A touch of oak sweetness and spice but very restrained. Very very fine grained, you can feel the tannins but they melt across the palate. There’s intensity but it’s so TENDER. It’s dark-fruited rather than savoury. There’s minerality in both taste and texture. Fabulous way to start a day’s tasting. (Julia Harding MW, JancisRobinson.com, 24 April 2012)
Cheval Blanc and its smaller, but equally famous peer, Château Ausone, are the only two wines in St Émilion to be rated “A” Premier Grand Cru Classé. The St Émilion classification system is unusual, because unlike the more famous Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, it calls for the wines to be reviewed every ten years. Since it was first introduced in 1955, Cheval Blanc has always maintained its top ranking.
In the second half of the 19th century and for most of the 20th, the 41 hectare estate, which borders the Pomerol appellation, was owned by the Laussac-Forcaud family. They were responsible for the legendary 1921 and 1947 vintages – in 2010 a rare Imperial bottle (6 litres) of the latter sold for a record-breaking $US304,375!
The wine has always been an almost 50/50 blend of cabernet franc and merlot, and is aged in 100% new oak for a minimum of 18 months. The terroir, a mix of gravel over clay (40%), deep gravel (40%), and sand over clay (20%), is considered ideal for cultivating both grapes.
In 1998 the property was sold to Bernald Arnault of the luxury goods group LVMH and Belgium’s richest businessman Albert Frère. Since that time it has been under the direction of Pierre Lurton, who also looks after the fabled Château d’Yquem.
Cheval Blanc was the first winery in St Émilion to install a network of field drains to prevent the vineyards from flooding. Most recently, it opened a spectacular new $US18.5 million winery with more than enough Italian-made conical-shaped cement vats for each of the vineyard’s 44 plots. Technical director Pierre-Olivier Clouet told the Wine Spectator that the design focused on Cheval Blanc’s approach to winemaking. “The concept of the new cellar turns around only one point: selection by plot…We will have fun searching for the characteristics of each plot—gravel, clay, sand, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, different clones and rootstocks. We will play with all of these components to build the blend of Cheval-Blanc and Petit Cheval—looking to gain purity, elegance and precision.” (A New Stable for Cheval-Blanc by Suzanne Mustacich, Wine Spectator, 20 June 2011)
Photo Credit: The Wine Cellar Insider
For detailed information on Château Cheval Blanc, see winedoctor by Chris Kissack
A few bottles of Château Cheval Blanc are currently available on the Cellarit Wine Market.