After two days on the Left Bank, the team and I were looking forward to a change of style and scenery as we headed east to discover what the Merlot-based wines of St Emilion had to offer in 2010.
There is no better place to start than at Cheval Blanc, where the new avant-garde cellars are finally starting to take shape. Once completed they will be quite an architectural statement. On arrival, I noticed Andrew Caillard, MW and his film crew who are currently engaged making a documentary about the impact that the burgeoning number of buyers from China are having on the fine wine world. During the previous weekend I spent Sunday evening with Andrew recording an interview for the film which is due to come out later this year.
Below: Deborah Ives (L) from our Cote d'Azure offices and
Julia Scales from our London headquarters prepare to taste at Cheval Blanc.
I have mentioned in my earlier blogs rumours that some Merlot-dominated Right Bank wines were too alcoholic but this was not the case at Cheval Blanc where elegance and restraint remain the order of the day.
The Petit Cheval is a blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc and comes in at 14%. The colour was deep and the fruit was sweet but by no means showy with flavours of black cherry, plum with a touch of cigar box. As for the tannins they were sleek and soft, while the acidity, especially on the finish, lifted the wine nicely, providing added freshness. 93 points.
As we tasted, I spoke with Cheval’s new, young winemaker Pierre-Olivier Clouet who enjoys one of Bordeaux’s plum jobs, working under the inimitable Pierre Lurton. He told me that some Merlot plots suffered from coulure (uneven berry set), but not the later-ripening Cabernet Franc. So this year’s blend of the Grand Vin has much more Cabernet Franc compared to Merlot (56% to 44%). Clouet also compared the wine to both 2005 and 1998, which I would agree with.
Certainly, there is no question that this is a really sophisticated Cheval and is much more classical than the exotic 2009. This had a terrific nose with dry, creamy, damson, cassis and plum laden fruit on the palate. There were ripe and toothsome tannins and a fleshy mouth-feel. Yet the wine was not overbearingly big, assertive or flashy. Rather, it remains brilliantly refined and focused – just like good Cheval Blanc should be. 97 points.
Cheval may not, in 2010, be the wine of the vintage – I for one still give that accolade to Lafite - but it is probably the most visited of all the top chateaux and always a reference point. Everyone wants to come and taste here so the numbers of visitors are always incredible. According to Pierre-Olivier, they had already received 1000 visitors in the first two days of the week. That they will end up with over 2000 during the course of the week must be some kind of record. It’s easily much more than the Left Bank First Growths.
One of the pleasures of tasting at Cheval is that we usually get a sneak preview of Chateau d'Yquem, as it is also part of the LVMH stable. On this occasion, d'Yquem’s winemaker, Sandrine Garbay, was on hand to pour the wine and tell us about the vintage.
According to Sandrine, only 40% of the crop made the final cut so strict selection remained the order of the day. However, the yields were good, coming in at 20hl/ha making this a reasonably big year and in that respect, not unlike 2009. The final blend was 87% Semillon and 13% Sauvignon Blanc.
Above: Chateau d'Yquem winemaker Sandrine Garbay serves us the 2010 vintage.
She also mentioned that it was a good year for noble rot. ‘It was dry through August, but then we got some rain just when we needed it during September which caused the onset of botrytis. We were able to do two passes towards the end of the month. Then we had more rain at the beginning of October enabling us to do four more tries from the middle to the end of the month.’
The result is a very, very good d'Yquem. The nose was particularly intense and honeyed as was the palate, without being heavy or cloying. The wine was a little less voluptuous than last year – and like the Cheval was much more classical. However, the balance was exquisitely complex and long. 97 Points.
After Cheval Blanc, we headed for the Rive Droite tasting where I was keen to taste the wine of Chateau Feytit-Clinet, a tiny property in Pomerol which has a terrific terroir. I often rate it highly and frequently serve it at home. It is a very fine wine that, at around 500 euro per case, offers exceptional value.
2010 was yet another success and a real feather in the estate's cap. The winemaker, Jeremy Chasseuil has made a delicious wine with plump black fruit, a whiff of cedar and spice, round tannins and some very precise and fine acidity. 94 points
So, if you haven’t yet tried the well-priced wines from this tiny (6.5ha) property, I would urge you to do so. And while 2010 won’t be ready for several years, the brilliant 2009 will be ready to enjoy much sooner. AWC will be offering this shortly.
Jeremy’s father Michel-Jack, owner of Feytit-Clinet, has one of the most extraordinary and fascinating wine collections in the world. Last year I visited his remarkable home, deep in the countryside near Poitiers, where he has assembled what is probably the greatest cellar of wine I have ever seen (and I've seen many).
Above: Michel-Jack Chasseuil - owner of both Chateau Feytit-Clinet and one of the world's greatest wine collections.
It is impossible to go through his entire list of treasures, but they include 1928 Salon, 1914 Petrus, 1899 Latour, 1900 Margaux, 1895 Chateau Chalon, as well as bottles of 1837 Massandra and even older bottles of Madeira, Cognac, Marsala and a bottle of 1735 Port. If you want to know more, I can recommend an award-winning book about the collection which has just been published in French.
Check back later today for more Right Bank details, in Part 2.