On the Trail

Lunch at Cheval Blanc

David Driscoll

Since I previously mentioned Sideways and the irony of merlot-hating Miles drinking a bottle of St. Emilion after spewing such anger towards the varietal, I might as well remind you of which wine it was in the film. Think back, trivia fans. Do you remember the label? It was Château Cheval Blanc. Paul Giamatti mentions it to Virginia Madsen as the two talk about their trophy bottles and the wines they're saving for a special occasion. When their relationship goes south, however, he ends up drinking that Cheval Blanc out of a styrofoam cup while eating a burger in a local diner. I had never even heard of Cheval Blanc before I watched Sideways back in 2004. Yet now I found myself standing outside the prestigious St. Emilion property getting ready to taste through their en primeur offerings, completely in awe of the fact I had somehow ended up here at the pearly gates. Clyde had made an appointment for both a tasting and lunch. We would be dining with the head directeur himself: Pierre Lurton, also the winemaker at Château d'Yquem—the greatest dessert wine in all the world. We were primed for a world class affair.  

After tasting the 2015 Cheval Blanc, we gathered in the salon with esteemed guests (and us), Pierre and Clyde sitting across from one another in the prime middle seats. Ralph and I were perched in the far corner, anticipating the menu and the wine pairings. We were giving a small booklet that included notes for 2011 Quinot L'Enclos, a back vintage of 2000 Cheval Blanc, and a dessert pairing with 2005 Yquem. We had duck with the Cheval and lime sherbet with the Yquem. I had an epiphany and blacked out while Ralph started speaking in tongues and convulsing in violent spurts. We woke up in each others arms wondering what had happened, oblivious to the more professional scene around us. Alright, that's not exactly what happened but you get the idea. 

Château Cheval Blanc was founded in 1832 after a parcel of Château Figeac was sold to man named Laussac-Fourcaud—a stretch of vineyards that ran up to the border of nearby Petrus. Today it's one of only four properties to receive the St. Emilion appellation's highest honor; the "A" ranking also held by Angelus, Ausone, and Pavie. Together they make up the top growths of the region, but Cheval Blanc continues to impress serious critics and aficionados with the progress they've made at the estate; especially over the last decade. Their wines continue to improve year after year and many industry professionals we've talked with this week consider the 2015 Cheval Blanc to be the best wine in Bordeaux. The 2005, for example, received a perfect score from a number of critics. The 2015 might be on a similar trajectory. 

Pierre Lurton was there to guide us through each of the wines, bubbling with excitement over the selections. It's rare to have a director who oversees two top-class properties on the level of Cheval Blanc and Yquem simultaneously. In the whisky world, it's analogous to Bill Lumsden being the master distiller for both Glenmorangie and Ardbeg; they're two totally different liquids, yet each is world class in its own right. Ralph and I took our glasses of 2015 Cheval Blanc, took a sip, and contemplated. "What do you think?" I asked him.

"I think it's pretty damn delicious," he said after smacking his lips a bit. The balance of fruit and acidity is remarkable and the wine pops in all the right places as it makes its journey across your taste buds. I chatted with another retailer sitting next to me who mentioned that Cheval Blanc is known for being one of the most difficult wines to assess in its youth. "It always scores low at the en primeur and it always gets overlooked, but then everyone goes back and realizes how amazing it is later on." If this initial experience was only a small sign of what to expect later then great things are coming our way.

The 2015 Château d'Yquem was just outside the room, resting on a bed of ice. I waited to receive my pour of the only Sauternes wine to be classified as a first growth; a property that year after year creates one of the most complex, ethereal, and inspiring wines on the planet. Both Alex Pross and I tasted from our glasses at the same time. The soft, sweet, golden-hued elixir went past my lips, over my tongue, and down my throat, setting off an alarm in my head that began slowly alerting every inch of my body to the fact that I had just come into contact with something other-worldly. "Holy #&$!!," I said to Alex with my eyes as wide as saucers. He was repeating the same explicative right back at me. The 2015 Yquem is like happiness in a bottle; a perfect mixture of tropical fruits, clean acidity, and hedonistic splendor that is—in theory—supposed to age in your cellar for the next four decades; but in reality it tastes pretty freakin' amazing right now. "I would have no problem paying an insane amount of money for this and drinking it today with my wife," I said to Alex. "Me neither," he said back to me. "If there's such a thing as a 100 point wine, that's gotta be it." 

As I stood there trying to comprehend buying a bottle of this incredible wine en primeur, waiting several years for its eventual arrival, and then hiding it away until my seventies to finally pop it open, I pondered the phenomenon that is modern winemaking. With practices as selective and advanced as they've ever been, wines that normally would take a lifetime to mature are now accessible at a much younger age, but in all likelihood can live a very long life. I suddenly flashed back to those old Miller High Life commercials, where the narrator breaks down the eternal struggle to decide on whether to have another deviled egg or one last beer. The great thing about Miller High Life, according to this gravelly-voiced wiseman, was that you didn't have to decide; it was a beer light enough to entertain the carefree duality. "Because when you live the High Life, you can have it both ways," he opines before the add finishes. 

Drinking Château d'Yquem is definitely my idea of the high life, and it appears that with the 2015 I can drink it whenever I please!

-David Driscoll