Known all over the world, Chateau Cheval Blanc, a First Classified Growth A, is one of the legendary wines of the Right Bank of the Bordeaux region. Cheval Blanc benefits from a unique and...Read More
Ebbing elegantly forth from a verdant backdrop of vines are two magnificent waves of slick white concrete, a structure that has come to leave its pedigreed print on the architectural landscape of Bordeaux’s wine country. It is under this cool tide of white that we find the winery of Chateau Cheval Blanc, responsible for the most sought-after wine of its appellation, one of the illustrious “Club of 9” comprising the legendary First Growths of Bordeaux.
Classified a Premier Cru Classe “A” of Saint-Emilion since the very first classification of 1954, Cheval Blanc reigns over 96 acres of vineyards, divided into 45 plots, forming a stunning patchwork of micro-terroirs that has remained unchanged for over a century. Here, each precious vine is cared for on an individual basis and the fruit harvested in many careful passes, only after developing aromatic, technological and phenolic maturity. After a strictly plot-based vinification in 52 vats of Italian concrete, the wines are aged and blended and aged again in a suite of barrels made of centuries-old French oak, carefully chosen from a trusted circle of 6 or 7 local coopers. But the wines of Chateau Cheval Blanc are truly born on the blending table through the painstakingly meticulous art of assemblage, which requires the full concentration, creativity and skill of the chateau’s winemaking team, led by the visionary Pierre Lurton. The resulting wine stuns with its dignified expression, revealing an unbridled power, a statuesque body and effortless grace in the glass.
To speak of the history of Château Cheval Blanc is to speak, first and foremost, of the history of its vineyard, which was planted with vines as far back as the 15th century. In the 17th century, the tenant farm called « Au Cheval-Blanc » was sold to Bertrand de Gombaud for 1,400 francs, and by the time of the French Revolution the estate was inhabited by two full-time winegrowers. Nevertheless, the beginning of the estate as we know it today can be traced to the year 1832, which is when Jean-Jacques Ducasse, President of the Libourne Trade Tribunal, purchased the core vineyard of the estate. Throughout the two decades that followed, the subsequent purchase of small plots from Chateau Figeac led to the assembly of a 96-acre vineyard, which we today recognize as the Cheval Blanc estate.
Jean-Jacques Ducasse’s daughter Henriette married a Libourne wine merchant named Jean Laussac-Fourcaud, who would could to inherit the property and invest heavily in renovating it. Fourcaud was one of the first to recognize the importance of hydraulic stress for the vines, leading him to install an efficient drainage system. During the 1860’s, he would also replant the vineyard to 50% Merlot and 50% Cabernet Franc. It was in 1851 that the estate wines were first sold under the name Chateau Cheval Blanc. The next few decades saw the reputation of Cheval Blanc’s wine soar, with a bronze medal won in the 1862 Universal Exhibition in London, a gold medal at the 1878 Universal Exhibition in Paris and another gold medal at the Universal Exhibition of Antwerp. By the 1880’s, the estate’s wines were being sold at the same price as those of the legendary First Growths of the Left Bank, the likes of Latour, Lafite, Margaux and Haut-Brion.
Upon the death of Jean Laussac-Fourcaud in 1888, the chateau was inherited by his widow, who in turn left it to their son Albert. It was Albert Laussac-Fourcaud who installed twelve wooden vats in the winery and made mass selections of old vines in the vineyard. He left the estate to his two sons Jacques and Joseph Fourcaud-Laussac. In 1954, Chateau Cheval Blanc earned the classification of Premier Grand Cru Classe “A,” which to this day remains the highest possible ranking for a Saint-Emilion chateau.
In 1998, Cheval Blanc started a brand new chapter of its story, when it was purchased by Bernard Arnault of LVMH and Baron Albert Frere. The two friends and wine lovers breathed new life into this legendary chateau, investing in a spectacular new cellar, which was designed by Pritzker-prize winning visionary architect Christian de Portzamparc. Nevertheless, the new owners entrusted the winemaking to the capable team first set up by Gaston Vassiere, who was cellarmaster at Cheval Blanc for 44 years. Today, Chateau Cheval Blanc is managed by winemaker Pierre Lurton, who also runs the winemaking at the legendary Chateau d’Yquem in Sauternes.
Chateau Cheval Blanc is a Premier Grand Cru Classé “A” wine estate of the Saint-Emilion appellation, situated on the Right Bank of the Bordeaux region in France. The vineyard sits on the border of Pomerol and comprises 96 acres of vineyards, which are divided in 45 separate plots. Each of these plots offers its very own unique cocktail of soil type, exposure, vine age and grape variety, so blending the wines from them results in remarkable complexity.
In fact, what sets the Cheval Blanc vineyard apart from others in Saint-Emilion is that it is home to equal parts of excellent gravelly soils and clay soils. The 45 plots offer a patchwork of terroirs, ranging from fine soils with clay to coarser soils with gravel and large gravel soils with sand. This diversity of soil types results in a diversity of grape varieties planted as well. The Cheval Blanc vineyard is today planted with roughly 52% Cabernet Franc, 43% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon in an appellation where Merlot usually constitutes the majority of the plantings. While clay soils tend to produce wines with power and smooth tannins, gravel soils make wines that are aromatic and elegant. Blending wines from both types of soils allows for the team to produce wines of great balance and complexity. At Chateau Cheval Blanc, not only each plot but each vine (all 237,288 of them) is treated as its own individual. The identity of each parcel, plot and vine is kept as consistent as possible, having barely changed since 1871.
In the winter, the vines are pruned (or “sculpted’) based on the individual needs of each plant, with the same worker assigned to the same plot each year. In the spring, suckering is carried out to remove non-fruit-bearing shoots. The soil is ploughed in the spring and weeds are removed by tilling. In May and June, young vines are planted on plots that were previously left fallow for a period of 2.5 years. During the flowering, the uppermost shoots of each vine are trimmed to limit vertical growth. Throughout the summer, the vines undergo leaf-thinning and green harvesting, to ensure the development of concentrated fruit in time for the harvest.
The great success of Cheval Blanc wines can be attributed to the remarkable care taken at the time of harvest to pick only fully ripened grapes, with optimal aromatic, technological phenolic maturity. Starting in early September, the vineyard team evaluates the fruit of all 45 plots on a daily basis, comparing their aromas, acidity and tannin. The fruit from each vine is harvested only when the ripeness of the pulp, skins and seeds are deemed to be perfect by the vineyard manager and technical director. The fruit is harvested over a period of 10 days, exclusively by hand by around 50 pickers in multiple passes, depending on the ripeness of each plot. They are transported in 20-kilo crates to the winery, where they are vinified on a strictly plot-by-plot basis.
The Chateau Cheval Blanc winery is truly a sight to see, having shaped the landscape of Bordeaux wine country with its unparalleled and timeless design. The brainchild of award-winning architect Christian de Portzamparc, the building features two magnificent waves built of solid white concrete with a green garden of wild grasses growing between them. This 6,000 m² winery is penetrated by natural light, which shines upon the 52 concrete vats of 20 to 110 hectoliters arranged in 6 rows. Each of these vats, imported from Italy, is dedicated to the vinification of grapes from a different vineyard plot.
The winery is a true masterpiece of environmentally-friendly architecture, with great care taken in selecting materials, saving energy and water treatment. In recognition of these efforts, the Cheval Blanc cellar was the very first to be certified for the High Quality Environmental standard.
Upon reception at the winery, the harvested grapes are carefully sorted, crushed and filled by gravity into a vat corresponding to the plot of origin. On the second day, fermentation begins and after the formation of a cap, the team carries out manual pump-overs three times per day. The juice is left in contact with the cap for a few days after fermentation, resulting in a richer and more elegant structure in the free run juice. When the latter is drained off, the marc is pressed and the press wine is filled into barrels for clarification. These are eventually used to make the chateau’s second wine, Le Petit Cheval. Malolactic fermentation is left to take place in vat for three weeks to several months, softening the acidity of the wines over time. When this second fermentation is over at the end of autumn, the wines are filled into 300 to 450 French oak barrels and aged for a period of 16 to 18 months.
At Chateau Cheval Blanc, very careful attention is paid to selecting the barrels used for aging. The estate uses only French oak barrels, which are made from oak trees that are 180, 200 or 350 years old. The barrels are sourced from six or seven different trusted cooperages and the quality is vigilantly monitored in order to guarantee consistency in the degree of toasting and oak variety preferred. Racking is carried out with the use of an inert gas, which pushes out the wine while avoiding oxidation. Importantly, no pumps or filters are used during this process.
The crescendo of winemaking at Cheval Blanc is the blending process, which takes place after the wines have spent 3 months in barrel. During this time, the chateau team tastes samples of wine from each barrel, meticulously evaluating its expression. Typically, wines from 15 to 35 plots out of the 45 total plots are included in the blend of the Chateau’s namesake First Wine. The choice of plots and proportion of different grape varieties changes from one year to the next, depending on the characteristics of the vintage. At Cheval Blanc, blending has become a true art form, one that requires remarkable concentration and skill.
The wines selected are blended together in 220 hectoliter stainless steel vats and then filled back into barrels to mature for one more year in the semi-dark aging cellar of the chateau.
Today, Chateau Cheval Blanc produces only three wines: its eponymous First Wine, a Second Wine named Le Petit Cheval and Le Petit Cheval Blanc, a dry white wine made predominantly from Sauvignon Blanc.
Chateau Cheval Blanc is the most sought-after wine of Saint-Émilion, with some vintages boasting an aging potential of up to a century. The estate’s Grand Vin stands out for its freshness, elegance and complexity. The specific personality of the wine varies from vintage to vintage. The 2018 vintage, for example, displays a deep red color in the glass, with a redolent nose of raspberry and black fruits (like black cherries and blackcurrants), along with floral fragrances of violets, lilacs and roses. The fruits and florals are complemented by spicy and balsamic touches, along with nuances of black pepper and cocoa beans. The palate is rich and full-bodied with powerful tannins upon a very firm yet refined structure. The finish lingers long, echoing fruity and floral flavors, along with pleasant spicy overtones.
Le Petit Cheval is ruby in color in its youth, with aromas of cherry and strawberry mixing with cocoa, caramel, balsamic and vanilla. Notes of licorice and tobacco lift the nose, lending it a certain freshness. On the palate, this wine is full-bodied with very silky, smooth tannins. The finish is bright and fresh, revealing ripe red fruit flavors.
Le Petit Cheval Blanc is a yellowish green in color in its youth, with a very mineral nose full of cold pebbles and flint. Swirling the glass unleashes aromas of fresh citrus (bergamot) and herby aromas of sage and rosemary. These are complemented by floral fragrances of lilac and acacia. The palate is very crisp with generous volume and straightforward acidity. On the finish, this wine reveals juicy peach and pear flavors, along with lovely bitter touches.
Chateau Cheval Blanc prides itself on producing wines which are enjoyable at all the different stages of their development, from their youth to after aging up to a century in the bottle for certain vintages. For wine lovers planning to cellar these bottles, we wish to stress the importance of ensuring optimal storage conditions. These wines should be kept in a cool, dark place at a consistent temperature between 10°C and 18°C (ideally at 14°C) and a humidity of 70-75%. The wines should always be kept laid on their side, so that the cork stays in contact with the wine and does not dry up and shrink over time.
We recommend serving each bottle at a temperature between 15°C and 17°C. Bottles that are less than 10 years old should be decanted for one hour before the service, to let the wine breathe. These wines will pair exceptionally well with earthy dishes, though the chateau recommends avoiding dishes with too much citrus or spice.