Domaine de Chevalier in Hong Kong
Thursday, 9 June 2016 by Stephen Browett
Olivier Bernard and I are the same age. I joined Farr Vintners in 1984 as a 24 year old and he arrived at Domaine de Chevalier in 1983 aged just 23 years when his family bought the property from Claude Ricard. I have always liked Olivier as he’s one of the few Bordeaux proprietors who genuinely loves wine and has a huge knowledge of all of the world’s great wines, not just Bordeaux.
The 23 year old Olivier wisely spent the first five years of his family’s ownership of the property working and learning alongside the former owner, Claude Ricard, before making some bold decisions for the future of the vineyard. In the late 1980’s he began a massive, long-term programme of re-planting and drainage. Three-quarters of the total vineyard was replanted or newly planted and the total extent of vines is now 45 hectares compared to just 15 hectares in production back in 1983. The vines that Olivier planted started to make serious wines in the early 2000’s and are now becoming “vieilles vignes” just as Olivier and I are now becoming old men of the wine trade.
Domaine de Chevalier made fantastic wines in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s. I remember an amazing tasting of over 50 vintages back to 1916 that I was privileged to attend in 2005. The 1928, 1948 and 1964 spring to mind as having been particularly outstanding. Quality declined in the 1970’s (as it did everywhere in Bordeaux) and hail and frost meant that Domaine de Chevalier 1982 was, unfortunately, one of the worst wines of Bordeaux in that famous vintage. From the early 1990’s until the early 2000’s I don’t think that Chevalier made any truly great wines as the average age of the vines was very young. However, every year since then at the annual Southwold blind tasting, the wine has been a star performer.
We are now entering a golden period for Domaine de Chevalier and the wines being produced there today may be the finest ever in the estate’s history. They are certainly of “super second” quality but fortunately prices remain reasonable. Olivier believes the 2010 to be the greatest vintage that he has ever made but even the lesser vintages are excellent – including “wine of the vintage contenders” in poorer years like 2002, 2007 and 2013.
Every two years the Vinexpo wine fair is held in Hong Kong. I knew that Olivier would be there this year as he is the President of the “Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux” so I took the opportunity to ask him if he would tutor a dinner featuring his wines at the Grand Hyatt hotel. I was delighted that he agreed and here are my notes on the wines that thirty customers of Farr Vintners tasted on the 25th May 2016 with Olivier and Anne.
As a warm-up we tried a few vintages of Chateau Lespault-Martillac. This is a property to watch. Olivier took over the viticulture and vinification here in 2009 and the modestly priced wines made here have a great Graves personality. With around 60% Merlot in the blend they are plump, forward and very attractive for early drinking.
Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2012 – There are lovely notes of lime and tropical fruit here with lemony freshness. Behind the crisp Sauvignon Blanc character there is impressive weight and texture. Very youthful but delicious. This should develop into a really great wine. 17
Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2009 – Olivier commented that the greatest red vintages are not necessarily the best for the white wine. This has impressive richness with a strong honey character and a hint of poached pears. Rich and ripe. 16
Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 1988 (magnum) – very impressive density here. This really opens up in the glass with notes of honeysuckle and white peach. Stull youthful and very surprising to see it showing so much freshness at nearly 30 years old. 17.5
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 2008 – This has a deep colour and a rich, tarry, spicy nose. There is real depth of black cassis fruit and it still has some firm tannins and a dry edge. Very good but not ready. This needs a couple more years in the bottle before it reveals all of its charms at ten years of age. With 66% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend this is a masculine, solid Chevalier. 16.5+
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 2007 – Maturing at the rim with a sweet, inviting nose of plump fruit and vanilla spice. The palate is soft and creamy with a lovely smooth texture. Lovely to drink now. More pleasure than the 2008 tonight. It is absolutely ready now and ideal for current consumption. A big success for the vintage but no point in keeping it. 16
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 2006 – Showing a little brown at ten years old but this is still surprisingly youthful. Rich and opulent for Chevalier and then a slightly dry edge at the finish. Still not fully mature. Adolescent. 16+
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 2005 – A deep colour with an intense, soaring nose. This is a huge wine yet it’s beautifully balanced. A classic Graves with notes of graphite, lead pencils, cigar box and woodsmoke. Concentrated ripeness with sweet cassis. Still not really ready to drink but not far away now, the tannins are softening….. Multi-dimensional and profound. 17.5
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 2003 – This has a mature colour with a sweet, smoky nose. There is lovely ripe decadence here and a lovely glug-able mouthful of plump, generous fruit with some exotic spice. Cashmere wine. 17
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 2000 – This looks very advanced. There are some herbal notes on the nose. On the palate it is a bit astringent and it doesn’t have the depth that one would expect from a top property in 2000. Too many young vines in the blend? 14.5
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 1996 (magnum) – Notes of tobacco leaf and red cherry fruit. A touch of mint too. Like the 2000 this is a bit stalky and lacks flesh and generosity. Not a great period for Chevalier. 15
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 1986 (magnum) – Olivier said that a severe frost in 1985 killed many of the Merlot vines so this is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon. Some nicely mature fruit here with a touch of leather and tar. It’s getting on a bit now and is good but not great. 15.5
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 1966 (magnum) – This is fabulous. Multi-dimensional with smoky complexity. Coffee and Asian spices on a peacock tail finish. A magnificent glass of mature claret. Excellent. 17.5
Our thanks to Olivier for his participation in this tasting. I’m excited for the future of this great estate as I think that the recent vintages, when mature, are going to make fantastic drinking.