One of the highlights of En Primeur each year is a visit to Cheval Blanc, home of one of the most exciting (and expensive) wines of the world. What makes it so famous? Obviously, quality. And then there is that signature aroma and taste created in part by its two terroirs, Pomerol and Saint-Emilion.
The house that is Cheval Blanc began its life as "Le Barrail des Cailloux" in 1834, producing wine from a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, a grape of the Cabernet family. In 1954 Cheval Blanc was awarded the rank of Premier Grand Cru Classe A. Like many luxury goods, it is now owned by LVMH, and it remains as it was in 1871 with the addition of technological improvements.
Cabernet Franc (here called by its local name, Bouchet) accounts for 58 percent of the plantings and gives Cheval Blanc its unique taste (in most other Chateaux Merlot is the key varietal). Another factor that accounts for Cheval Blanc's fame is the age of the vines (over forty years), which offers a more concentrated fruit and naturally limits yields. Perfectly ripe grapes are selected three times — once in the vineyard, once on the sorting table, then again after de-stemming. During the vatting phase (fermentation), the gentle extraction is conducted to ensure high quality tannins, then the wine is matured in new French oak casks from seven different cooperates to avoid a dominant wood aroma. After racking in January or February, the two varietals (Cabernet Franc and Merlot) are blended in Spring.
Each year, wine journalists are invited to taste the new vintage of Cheval Blanc and its less expensive siblings (Le Petite Cheval and Le Tour Du Pin) — a fabulous, much-awaited opportunity. The tasting was held at Cheval Blanc itself (a rare opportunity on its own to see this famous Chateau) with dozens of international journalists invited inside to taste in groups. Around the room, of course, were a “who’s who” of the world’s finest wine writers eager to taste the new vintage and make a proclamation.
And the 2009 vintage was fabulous — remarkably concentrated fruit, incredible elegance, and the opportunity to improve with a decade or more of bottle age. It will be at least ten years before a bottle of the 2009 vintage can be opened and enjoyed, so if it is this good now, let us see what the future holds.