I have a project, which is to collate my notes on the 2003 – 2009 Bordeaux vintages and put them online on a sister site. This is clearly a brilliant idea with a fatal flaw – the tragic hero of ideas: it will involve a great deal of rather tedious work. Not one of my strong points. So, an expansion of one note. 2009 Ch. Cheval Blanc, St Emilion:
65% of the crop made the grand vin, which is 60% Merlot, the rest Cabernet Franc.
And the tasting room, the Orangerie, is full of large vases filled with what looks like a mixture of chocolate and white pebbles. There’s some effort at something subliminal here: I’m supposed to look at the pebbles and think (and write, and tell my customers): there’s some minerality here.
The note reads: “Classy but closed on the nose. Very complete in mouth. Silky texture. Again very, very ripe. Long, balanced, but I’m still looking for the acidity. Very complete in the finish. Getting better and more serious. Am I giving these (Tour du Pin, Petit Cheval, Cheval Blanc) enough of a chance? The length is very impressive and beautiful aftertaste. Maybe I’m looking too hard for the edge. Very good. Huge length.”
I think Parker was once bitten by a dog at Cheval Blanc, which rather compounded the possible fact that he’s no good at young Cabernet Franc. My own experiences have mostly included impossibly beautiful, probably Swiss-educated, five-language, hostesses talking to me with the contempt that I deserve. Occasionally they have presented some seriously good wine. 2000 Cheval Blanc was one of the first wines I tasted from barrel (not a bad start) and I can still remember it, not just because of the moment. What most impressed (and this is often a hallmark of truly serious kit) was the texture, the silk.
But frequently what impresses at Cheval Blanc is the feeling one gets that they are, well, rather “up themselves”. That you’re rather lucky that they’ve let you in. Similar, I imagine, to the sort of feeling that one gets in the shops where you can buy the (not unrelated) Louis Vuitton kit that, well, to me at least, looks a bit crass to the point where having the real stuff is even worse than having the fake kit.
Back to the notes. My first “real” tasting trip in Bordeaux was in 2004 – to taste the 2003s (by real I mean 500 wines or so in a week). I was accompanied by three colleagues, two of whom we can forget (or at least I can try to), the third of whom is one of the best tasters I have ever met, a senior figure in the UK wine trade, the buying director of my then employers and, to be honest, frightened the life out of me. So I took the tastings very, very seriously, and wrote down EVERYTHING. Which is something I continue to do on tasting trips, hampered slightly by the fact that I am invariably the driver on account of the very low level of driving ability in the wine trade(colleagues that I have travelled with in the past ten years can drive = one).
There is much in my tasting notes that I can’t publish (rule number one: never, ever, ever write your name in your tasting book), either because it’s puerile trash (boys will be boys) or it’s true and could offend the wrong person (I wouldn’t wash my socks in 2008 Chateau Whatever). But sometimes the asides mean so much more than the academic stuff. So, my last two lines on 2009 Cheval Blanc:
“Very Bond Street.”, sez Clarethound, “You don’t drive this…”
Which is the point, and says as much to me as the rest of the tosh. 2009 Cheval Blanc is flamboyant, flashy, opulent, a little overdone for the purist maybe, classy, glossy, impeccably well made up, not a hair out of place, a tiny bit bling. It’s for those that eat at Nobu and stay at Claridge’s and used to fly Concorde. It’s a full on, chauffeur driven Roller, rolling down Bond Street. Even the most committed socialist worker (or puritan lover of “proper” claret) just can’t help but admire. It’s sort of the girl I saw driving a topless Bentley down the King’s Road a few years back. Almost – she was driving…