I have been in Bordeaux since Saturday doing retrospective tastings of 1988 and 1998 – 20 years and 10 years after harvest, respectively. It’s been a fascinating few days. Both vintages are excellent but for completely different reasons. The 1988 is a great Cabernet Sauvignon year while the 1998 is superb for Merlot. But I will tell you more later.
Besides tasting, I have been visiting numerous top estates both on the Right and Left Banks. The outlook for the quality of this year’s harvest is still very much up in the air. The spring and summer were not ideal for growing grapes in Bordeaux, with lots of wet and gray weather. Apparently, if July had not been very hot and sunny, it may have been a complete disaster. Moreover, there was bad flowering of the vines and lots of mildew. So the top estates have been really working hard to keep their vineyards clean and well-managed to make up for mother nature’s deficiencies.
It’s gray and wet today, after more than a week of sun and hot weather. But most winemakers I spoke to thought good weather would come. They didn’t think they would harvest their reds before the last week in September, but châteaus in the Médoc, especially farther north, would not harvest until early October. This is abnormal for recent times, but more reminiscent of harvests 20 or 30 years ago. In any case, the Bordelais are keeping their fingers crossed for good, sunny weather.
One of the most optimistic winemakers I ran into was Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac-Leognan. He makes excellent reds, but his whites are legendary. He makes one of the best dry whites in Bordeaux, and he usually makes about 18,000 bottles. It’s a blend of 80 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 20 percent Sémillon. He picks the whites berry by berry and sometimes goes through the vineyards five or six times with his pickers to get the best grapes at just the right ripeness. The wines are barrel-fermented and barrel-aged.
This year, he expects to produce very little white, maybe only 50 percent of normal, due to a frost in April. We walked through the vineyards yesterday and many of the Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon vines had only one or two grape bunches, compared to four or five, which is more the norm. Check out my video.
"We have so little production of white in 2008 that we have to make something exceptional in quality,” he said.
Olivier laid on a tasting of recent red and whites, and I have included my notes on the latter. He served his second wine, L’Espirit, as well as the gran vin. The second wine is lighter and fresher in style than the first wine, which spends two winters in barrel. It’s also less expensive.
Domaine de Chevalier whites age wonderfully. I still remember years ago drinking a 30-year-old bottle with the former owner of the property, Claude Ricard, and it was beautiful. I also remember drinking a 1970 in magnum one Christmas in England and it was perfect, too.
Here are my notes from this non-blind tasting:
2006 l'Esprit: This is very Sauvignon, with pineapple and peach flavors, full and fresh, and a honey finish. Almost outstanding.
2007 L'Espirit: Bright and fruity with a celery and honey character. Bright acidity and lemony, exotic fruit. Potentially outstanding.
2004 Domaine de Chevalier: Intense aromas of lemon rind, peach skin, bread dough and vanilla bean. Full-bodied, with loads of ripe fruit, dried tropical fruits and vanilla cream. Long and beautiful finish. Drink now or age. 93 points, non-blind.
2005 Domaine de Chevalier: Sliced lemons, honey and toasted oak then turns to lemon curds. Full-bodied and layered with tropical fruit. What amazing length and complexity. This is too seductive. He says that it is going to close, but why let it? 97 points, non-blind.
2006 Domaine de Chevalier: Grapefruit, lemons, minerals, and limes. Much more citrus fruits on the nose than the 2005. Full-bodied, layered and beautiful. Tighter and racier than the 2005 but very serious in its own right. Much more Burgundian in style. Should be close to classic quality.
2007 Domaine de Chevalier: A solid core of fruit here with lemon and lime character. Big and powerful. Blockbuster. A mix between the 2006 and 2005. A classic wine in the making.
Jim Mccusker — Okemos, MI — September 3, 2008 2:37pm ET
Michael Vickery — Texas — September 3, 2008 5:43pm ET
Alex Bernardo — Millbrae, CA — September 4, 2008 12:55pm ET
Matt Scott — Honolulu HI — September 5, 2008 12:53am ET
Riccardo Bonino — Washington DC — September 7, 2008 10:48am ET
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