A Visit from Pierre-Olivier Clouet of Cheval Blanc

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Last Friday, we were treated to an incredible staff education seminar on Chateau Cheval Blanc by Pierre-Olivier Clouet, the technical director of the Chateau. He brought with him five vintages of Cheval Blanc, a generous lineup. For me, this was one of the big highlights of my year here at K&L, and the wines were so exciting that they made me feel like I was in my 20s again, making a personal wine discovery! To have wines at this price point and reputation live up to their billing is special indeed.

Pierre had many great facts and insights to share with us. The vineyards sit on the edge of St. Emilion, right next to Pomerol and is neighbors with La Conseillante. Their neighbor in St. Emilion is Figeac. They are extremely fortunate to not only have the gravelly limestone of St. Emilion, but also some of the top-quality clay of Pomerol, and, in fact, the estate is made up of 53 separate plots over 96 acres. Uniquely in the world of top-class Bordeaux, they are specialists in Cabernet Franc, which makes up 49% of the surface with 47% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon covering the rest.

Mr. Clouet explained quality as a duty at Cheval Blanc, as he felt that wines at this level must automatically be grown and made in the most careful way possible. He said that their goal was simple, to make the best possible Cheval Blanc every year. It was clear to me that they are playing their own game at this Chateau, as the wines not only were world-class quality, but also completely unique and inimitable. He chose an intriguing array of vintages to present to us, and as usual, tasting is a great way to highlight the limitations of the vintage chart.

The 2014 changed the way that I think about tasting young Bordeaux. Usually, I am only projecting into the future the potential of a tannic, unready wine, but this time, the first word in my notebook was “emotional.” This wine had amazing full body, graceful texture, yet was in no way overweight. I was bewitched by the combination of ripe, blue fruit and thyme-like herbal quality. The signature olive note was there too, and the finish was as long and effortless as one could wish for. It was my favorite of the tasting.

The 2012 had benefited from the extra couple of years, and was starting to become velvety and supple. I loved the subtle, chocolaty, wild blueberry complexity of the aromatics and flavors. Again, the finish was impossibly long, and flashed back all the complexity on the nose and palate. I would love to taste this again in 2032!

Pierre was most proud of the 2011, which had some of the most difficult weather conditions in recent years in Bordeaux. He certainly had a lot to be proud of here, as this isn’t just a good wine for an off vintage, this is the kind of ringer that will be making people look foolish in blind tastings for decades to come. This wine was super perfumed, and had an explosion of blue fruits, violets, and anise on the nose and in the mouth. It was dense and powerful in the mouth, with a bit of black tea and more concentration than the previous two vintages. The back end was grippy and strong… I think I would have guessed it was a 2010!

His 2009 was a gorgeous dark garnet color, loaded with more violets, parley and blueberries. It is developing its bouquet very nicely at 10 years old! This was as concentrated and powerful as one would expect for a 2009, but no more so than the 2011. I was most impressed with how all of that power did not turn overwrought, this was still elegant, extraordinarily long, and complex wine. The back-end grip was in evidence, and this is going to need to be buried at the bottom of the cellar for at least another 10 years.

The last vintage we tasted was the 2006, and the extra time had done wonders for it. The bouquet was developed, and the classic blend of black olives and dazzling violets quickly had me under its spell. I jotted down in my notebook “where is the wood?” realizing that I had not felt the presence of oak in any of the wines… What craft! The texture had turned to pure silk, without a trace of fat or heat. The finish was long and grippy.

I haven’t lost the spring in my step that these wines gave me yet- a week later I am still tasting them. Thank you so much Pierre-Olivier!

-Gary Westby

Gary Westby