On the Trail

The Legacy of Domaine de Chevalier

David Driscoll

It's on occasions like this past Thursday night at Donato in Redwood City that I'm thrilled to be an employee of K&L Wine Merchants, one of the most generous and giving employers I've ever had the pleasure of working for. Imagine this: an appetizer course with seven different vintages of Domaine de Chevalier blanc all tasted side by side, followed by a second course with six vintages of Domaine de Chevalier rouge from the nineties and 2000s, followed by a main course with six more vintages of the rouge entirely from the eighties—all of it paid for by Mr. Clyde Beffa, our esteemed  owner and Bordeaux buyer who loves getting the K&L staff all fired up about great Bordeaux. But this isn't a puff piece or a chance to brag about my good fortune on social media. This is an On the Trail post meant to shine a light on just how good the wines of Domaine de Chevalier—one of the last affordable luxuries in Bordeaux—truly are. There wasn't one dog in the bunch last night, and while the wines showed a variation from vintage to vintage, there was a consistent pattern of refinement and elegance no matter which year we tasted. 

Much of the veteran Bordeaux team has watched their beloved second and third growth properties skyrocket in price over the past two decades, which was part of the reason for the Chevalier tasting. We strongly think the wines from Oliver Bernard and team stand side by side many of the $200-$500 bottles we see collectors clambering for today. Take for example the stunning 2014 edition that still sells for a modest $49.99. That wine was part of the first red flight and was absolutely tremendous, especially given the fact it's still an infant in terms of its development. The fruits were vibrant and the tannins were refined, which as I mentioned before is a thread that runs through all the wines from the domaine. Yet, you can still find bottles like the 1996 that have been perfectly aged for two decades and are still well within reach for those of us looking for a somewhat reasonable splurge. That wine came shortly after the 2014 and, while it was decidedly meaty, smoky, and full of savory soy character, it still carried the lush core of red fruit that we found consistently from glass to glass. Clyde, who has been traveling to and working directly with Domaine de Chevalier since 1985, maintained that this is the calling card of a great property.

What's funny to many Bordeaux newcomers about Domaine de Chevalier is that their incredible white cuvée is often double the price of the red. In terms of quality and complexity, the blanc is one of the great wines in Bordeaux and perhaps the world at large. With five hectares of production, quantities are limited and—as my colleague Jeff Garneau has said—it doesn't give up its secrets easily. It's a wine of extraordinary complexity and longevity, as was indicated by the consistent and somewhat shocking youthfulness exhibited from vintage to vintage, from the 1995 to the 2001 to the 2007 and on to the 2014. The wines were continually fresh and alive no matter how far back we went, and even the color remained light and vibrant, never turning amber or brown with oxidation despite the maturity. 

Jeff Garneau, who led the tasting and put together the evening's lineup, discussed his recent trip to visit Olivier and taste the heralded 2016 vintage. In conversation with Olivier, the 2016 was described as perhaps the best wine the domaine has ever produced. It stands as the product of a mature vineyard, the culmination of more than thirty years of hard work by the Bernard family. What that means is that—despite the 150 year legacy of Domaine de Chevalier and the pedigree of great wines we tasted throughout the evening—the property is likely making the best wines in its history right now! As only the fourth owner in the domaine's history, Olivier understands the responsibility of his stewardship and as a result is always looking to honor the property's past. Yet, his desire to move forward and continue to improve is evident. It seems that every year that goes by we find ourselves more and more excited about what Domaine de Chevalier is doing and the fact that we can still afford to enjoy a bit of that magic for ourselves, vintage after vintage.

-David Driscoll