Our special guest for the night was administrator Pierre Lurton, and one of his favorite vintages under his impeccable guidance at Cheval Blanc is the 1998, a wine that has gone from strength to strength. I rated it in the mid- to upper-90s early on, but it seems to have hit the magical three-digit perfection. It offers extraordinary, exuberant aromatics ranging from truffle to forest floor to floral notes intermixed with blackcurrant and black raspberry. It is an incredibly complex, full-bodied, opulent wine that seems to be in mid-adolescence and capable of lasting another 25 to 30 years. The 1998 was a spectacular vintage in Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, and to a lesser extent in Graves, and all three of those appellations eclipsed anything that was made in the Médoc.
I seriously underestimated this wine, as I have often tended to do with Cheval Blanc. A potentially immortal example that has gained significant weight since it has been bottled, this blend of 55% Cabernet Franc and 45% Merlot has a saturated purple color and a glorious nose of menthol, plums, mulberries, new saddle leather, cocoa, and vanilla. Remarkably fuller bodied than I ever remembered it young, with an amazingly seamless texture and tremendous concentration and extract, this full-bodied yet gorgeously pure and elegant wine is impeccably balanced and certainly one of the all-time great Cheval Blancs. If it continues to improve as much as it has over the last three years since bottling, this wine will certainly rival the 2000, 1990, and 1982. Anticipated maturity: 2009-2030.
This blend of 55% Cabernet Franc and 45% Merlot exhibits a dark ruby/purple color as well as classic aromas of menthol, plums, mulberries, and assorted black fruits. The oak, texture, acidity, and tannin are all beautifully integrated. While full-bodied, elegant, concentrated, and impeccably balanced, it requires several years of cellaring.
This offering is just beginning to put on more weight and reveal the multiple dimensions that Cheval Blanc can achieve. An extremely difficult wine to judge young because of the high percentage of Cabernet Franc in the blend, the dark ruby/purple-colored 1998 possesses medium body, and a gorgeously sweet nose of black fruits, flowers, minerals, and toast. Rich and expansive, with a silky texture, a sexy, exotic personality, and an elegant, stylish, creamy-textured finish, it is weightier, thicker, and richer than when tasted in spring, 1999. If it continues to develop, the above score will appear stingy. I like the direction of this wine's evolution. Anticipated maturity: 2004-2020.
Cheval Blanc harvested its Merlot in mid to late September, and the Cabernet Franc after the rains of September 27 and 28. Yields were a modest 32 hectoliters per hectare, and approximately 72% of the production went into the grand vin. The 1998's final blend was 52% Merlot and 48% Cabernet Franc. A beautifully made Cheval, it may be the finest effort since 1990, although it does not possess that vintage's over-ripeness and opulence. Nevertheless, it is an impressive, sweet, distinctive wine with a deep dark ruby/purple color, and aromas of blackberry liqueur, vanillin, coconut, and a touch of coffee. The 1998 is elegant and sweet, with surprisingly good fatness, medium body, and well-integrated, velvety tannin. This wine can be difficult to taste young (because of the high percentage of Cabernet Franc), and often puts on considerable weight, meriting an even higher score after several years. That being said, the 1998 performed extremely well for such a young Cheval Blanc. Anticipated maturity: 2002-2016.
On this occasion, the 1998 Château Cheval Blanc could not match the stellar performance of the 1990, though it is still a great wine. It has a very pure, svelte bouquet with black cherries, camphor, creme de cassis and sage aromas. Giving it ten minutes to open in the glass, there is an attractive mint note that becomes ever more pronounced. The palate is medium-bodied with succulent tannins cloaked in glossy red cherry and strawberry fruit. There is great backbone and structure to this Cheval Blanc with a very long finish that fans out gloriously. I'd be inclined to give it two, three, maybe even four more years in bottle before it reaches its peak. Drink: 2019 - 2045.
An ex-château bottle, I have enjoyed the Cheval Blanc '98 on a number of occasions, though in the company of the 2000 I think it does not quite have the same class. It has a lifted perfumed bouquet that has an almost Northern Rhône-like allure. It is high-toned compared to the millennial wine, without quite the same delineation. The palate is medium-bodied with good length. Lively and focused, more ostentatious than either the 1990 and 2000, there is a slight Californian element to this wine. With fine symmetry towards the finish, one can see it ageing for another two decade without problem, though it needs to muster a little more soul. Tasted February 2014.
This is destined to be a legendary Cheval Blanc. A deep garnet colour. The nose is intense, though more broody than the bottle shown four months later with hints of blackberry, plum and sloe. The bouquet needs time to unfurl, so advise serious decanting if opening any bottles now. The palate is full-bodied, beautifully delineated with here, a hint of oyster sauce on the mid-palate. Crunchy blackberry, oodles of sweet Merlot but unlike the '01, complemented by some wonderful Cabernet Franc. Even after a couple of hours in glass, this wine is revealing nuances. Stunning. Tasted October 2007
The 1998 Cheval Blanc, a blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Franc, is deep garnet-brick in color and absolutely explodes with scents of exotic spices, incense, dried roses, cigar box and licorice, with a core of crème de cassis and dried cherries plus touches of black tea and dusty earth. Medium to full-bodied, it fills the mouth with rich, plushly textured fruit and then POW—it hits the mid-palate with an explosion of Chinese five spice and floral perfume sparks, leading to an epically long finish. This cannot fail to impress and can easily cellar for another 30 years or more.
Subtle, complex and refined, with aromas of cherry, licorice, mineral, berry and other sweet, ripe fruit. Full-bodied and compacted, with masses of fine, silky tannins. Long, long finish. Best after 2010. 8,330 cases made. (JS)
Mid crimson with a tad more development at the rim than Ausone or Pétrus. Already complex nose - sweet and rather dusty, more like the old traditional Cheval than recent vintages. Currant bun nose, Rich and yet firm and stylish on the palate, Silky and polished. Dry yet sappy finish. This grew in the glass to be very impressive. Both ripe and yet gorgeous to drink with real freshness. Quite a triumph. Drink 2009-2022. Date tasted 7th April 08.