Dinner at Domaine de Chevalier

Olivier and Anne Bernard were kind enough to ask me to dinner in the middle of the 2015 harvest, on the 1st of October. Jeffrey Davis, a Bordeaux-based American wine merchant and his Rumanian clients were also invited, as well as fellow blogger Izak Litwar from Denmark.

 

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Prior to dinner, the evening at Domaine de Chevalier started off with a tasting of all of Olivier Bernard’s white wines and wines in barrel.
Clos des Lunes is a very unusual wine – in fact, three different wines. This range of dry Sauternes is revolutionary in that Olivier Bernard set out from the start to make a wine exclusively of this type, rather than a “by-product” of Sauternes.
Furthermore, there is a movement afoot to grant an appellation other than Bordeaux to such wines.

The Bernard family now owns no fewer than 80 hectares in the Sauternes appellation, all devoted to making dry white wine.
Clos des Lunes comes in three categories: Lune Blanche, Lune d’Argent, and Lune d’Or. I tasted all three from the 2014 vintage.
It is important to understand that these wines are primarily Sémillon-based and produced from very old vines, blended with a little Sauvignon Blanc from the Graves and Sainte-Croix-du-Mont.
Lune Blanche is a slightly spicy, thirst quenching wine: crisp, fresh, and well-made – as one would expect from Olivier Bernard. I might add that this entry level wine is quite affordable and represents excellent value for money. It also receives no oak ageing and is ideal to drink quite young.
2014 Lune d’Argent is more complex, with a perfumed bouquet showing some sweetness and a kiss of mint. It is 25% oak-aged. There is more body on the palate, with fennel/angelica nuances. The flavour is a step up, and truly satisfying. In fact, a week prior to the tasting I had a party at my house. Thirty people came to lunch and 2014 Lune d’Argent was the white wine served to unanimous curiosity, followed by enthusiastic approval.
2014 Lune d’Or is fermented and aged in barrel, but the oak is not overwhelming. The bouquet also shows some beeswax overtones and the wine is silky and rich – but also perky – on the palate. There is a nice long aftertaste and a pleasant tanginess. This is more serious still and definitely one for the table rather than sipping.

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Next up was 2012 Domaine de la Solitude (65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Sémillon). The vineyard, in Martillac (AOC Pessac-Léognan), is owned by the sisters of the Order of the Holy Family, and Olivier Bernard has a long-term lease to make wine there. His 2012 white Domaine de la Solitude is quite fresh. Sauvignon Blanc predominates on the bouquet, and there is a good long aftertaste. It is useful to point out that this fine white Graves is in the very affordable price range. It also has medium-term ageing potential.
Château Lespault-Martillac (65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Sémillon) is a newcomer to the range. This little-known estate in the Pessac-Léognan appellation is owned by the Jean-Claude Bolleau family, who also granted a lease to the Bernard family. The latter’s first vintage was in 2009. The 2012 is promising and this is surely an estate to watch.
My previous post was about a tasting of second wines and, unlike some of my Bordeaux-loving friends, I have no prejudice whatsoever against this category of Bordeaux. This 2012 Esprit de Chevalier is truly a case in point. The bouquet is attractively fruity and sweet, and the wine is lovely on the palate with a great mineral finish. I gave it a score of 15/20, and I’m a very tough grader…

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The star of the line-up was, as expected, 2012 Domaine de Chevalier blanc, with a killer nose of citronella, mint, and a soupçon of camphor. It shows tremendous poise on the palate, a sophisticated dryness, and a great interplay between richness and minerality. Just lovely, and has many years ahead of it: 17/20. The 2011 Chevalier was not far behind. The color was noticeably deeper here and the ethereal nose very pleasing, but it seems to have less intrinsic potential than its young brother.

We then went to the cellar to taste wines in barrel – as well as the 2015, although I am certainly not qualified to evaluate wine at this stage! Anyway, the 2014 white Chevalier was very aromatic on the nose (I picked up some peppermint) and close in quality to the 2012. The 2014 red had a very deep color and a lovely, upfront, classy bouquet with an elegant, perfumed, feminine side. The wine was rich, and the fruit and oak very much in balance. There was a kind sensuality there that reminded me of fine Burgundy…

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Not only does Olivier Bernard make wine at an estate belonging to nuns, and one from the handkerchief-size vineyard at Bordeaux airport (!) called “La Croix de Guyenne”, but he also vinifies the grapes from an enormous single vine over two centuries old located in the middle of Bordeaux, at Place de la Victoire. We stopped to look at a barrel of the fermenting grapes, the rare Tchacouli Rouge variety (the white version is found in the Spanish Basque country).

Dinner

Olivier Bernard has an original game plan at dinner: the wines are served blind and the vintage always contains the last digit of the year in progress.
Therefore, everything we tasted ended in “five”.
It was up to us to guess the year!
I consider it rude to take notes at table, so please forgive the brief appraisals:

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We started off with a 1975 “Carte d’Or” from Veuve Clicquot in magnum as an apéritif. This was the firm’s prestige cuvée at the time. I quite like aged Champagne, what the French call le goût anglo-saxon, but I don’t like exaggerated oxidation. Fortunately, there was barely a trace of oxidation in this baby, which was utterly delicious. It was not just alive, but with all pistons firing. One often forgets that Champagne is one of the world’s great wines. This was superb, a monument, and it certainly dispelled my prejudice that Veuve Clicquot is on the heavy side.
The Champagne was followed by 4 flights of wines.

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The first included a delicious 1985 Puligny-Montrachet (village) from Leflaive and a 1985 Domaine de Chevalier blanc. We (collectively) found the right vintage by the process of elimination, but both wines were in fighting form and appeared much younger than their age. The Chevalier was wonderful and the village wine every bit as fresh – quite a tribute to the winemaker.

 

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My, oh my, were we ever off with the next wine! Old for sure, but which decade? We all failed, utterly. In our defense, how often does one serve you a glass of 1925? The Cos d’Estournel was still alive with a sublime subtlety and tertiary refinement to which words cannot do justice. We were all bowled over when the vintage was announced, partly because it is accepted practice to serve wines from young to old. But Olivier Bernard rightly felt that such an old wine would be overwhelmed after younger, more vigorous wines. I can remember a similar occasion when my friend Pascal Delbeck, manager of Château Ausone at the time, served an ancient Ausone before all other vintages.

In fact, this reasoning makes a lot of sense, and I thank Olivier for sharing such a rare wine.

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The second wine of the pair, 1955 Grand Puy Lacoste, was not in the greatest form. In fact, Olivier said that there was noticeable CO2 when he uncorked the bottle, to an extent he had never before seen in an old wine. The GPL was certainly drinkable, but paled in comparison to its partner.

These two Médocs were followed by a brace of 1975s, a vintage which the group (rather than me personally) guessed fairly quickly. 1975 was deemed to be a hard vintage, and one that did not quite live up to its reputation. However, the three wines were quite pleasurable at age 40, although arguably past their best. My preferences, in descending order, were for Léoville Las Cases, Domaine de Chevalier, and Cos d’Estournel. It was quite something to have two wines from Cos separated by half a century! It was also a tremendous treat to linger over these fine old Bordeaux. Once again, please forgive the lack of detailed notes.

The two wines with dessert were somewhat controversial. Also from 1975, the table seemed evenly divided between the Guiraud and the Gilette “Crème de Tête”. Certainly the Guiraud was the more classical of the two, but the Gilette seemed more dynamic and fruity.
Many, many thanks to Olivier Bernard for such an unforgettable evening. I might add this: Bordeaux (the city, the people, the wines…) is all about harmony and beauty and classic good taste. Sometimes this can err on the side of stiff formalism, stifling orthodoxy, or snobbishness. But the evening I spent at Chevalier was completely different: a fun time with people dressing down, cracking jokes, and being themselves alongside the rather serious business of tasting some of the world’s greatest wines.