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Classic Beauty of Cheval-Blanc

Posted: Nov 9, 2007 10:50am ET

Cheval-Blanc has a unique style. It’s a wine that really has somewhereness to it, for lack of a better phrase. Or it is what the French say, “a wine from great terroir.” I love the perfumed and aromatic quality of the wine and its silky, refined texture. It sometimes reminds me more of Burgundy than Bordeaux as it gets old. It impresses you more with its elegance and beauty than its power and opulence.

I was thinking a lot about this during a Cheval-Blanc tasting last weekend in Los Angeles. We tasted an amazing range of vintages including 2005, 2004, 2003, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1990, 1989, 1988, 1985, 1983, 1982, 1978, 1975, 1971, 1970, 1966, 1964, 1962, 1961, 1959, 1955, 1953, 1952, 1949, 1948, 1947, 1945, 1937, 1934 and 1921.

The pedigree of such a great wine estate is mindboggling when you think about it. It was hard to find a bad bottle in the entire tasting. I thought the wines from the 1950s and 1960s were particularly amazing. The wines have such class, such finesse, such subtle beauty. I keep thinking of classic, beautiful women like Grace Kelly or Rita Hayworth when I think of these wines.

Here are my tasting notes for the top wines of the 1960s and 1950s (all were tasted non-blind):

1966: This is a little volatile, but has rich tobacco, berry and cigar box character that turns to ripe berries. Full bodied, with round and soft tannins and a long finish. A bit funky. Always has been, but impressive nonetheless. 90 points, non-blind.

1964: I have always loved this wine. Loads of chocolate, licorice and black berry aromas. Intense and powerful. Full bodied, with ultrasilky tannins and a long, long finish. Full of character from licorice, to cigar box to meat and ripe fruit. 96 points, non-blind.

1962: A bit light now, but floral and very pretty with hints of ripe plums and prunes. Medium body with superfresh acidity and a long caressing finish. Starting to dry out now, but delicious. 89 points, non-blind.

1961: This is incredible on the nose, with masses of ripe fruit that turn to grilled meat, chocolate and plums. Roses as well. Full bodied, and wonderfully soft textured with ultrasweet, ripe fruit yet balanced and seamless. This is truly beautiful. Seduces you. Extraordinary wine. Such finesse. 98 points, non-blind.

1959: This is slightly raisinier in character than the 1961, with a Christmas cake, plum and prune character with hints of milk chocolate. Full and ultrasoft with lots of ripe fruit with hints of dried red fruit. Superlong and soft. Another phenomenal Cheval. An hour and a half later turns to pure fruit, namely raspberries and plums. So amazing. 99 points, non-blind.

1955: Decadent and rich with loads of cepes, dates, black berry, and plum. Full body, with a raisiny undertone. Velvety, soft and intense. Powerful and long yet refined and beautiful. In harmony. 97 points, non-blind.

1953: This is a very concentrated and rich wine, yet it’s full of finesse. Full and soft with silky tannins and a long finish. Lots of fruit and balance. A real beauty here. 95 points, non-blind.

1952: Very dark color. Very youthful nose with raisins, minerals, spice and vanilla. Full and chewy. Almost Caberent Sauvignon-like in character. This is big and rich. Impressive. Still a little rustic, But what concentration. 95 points, non-blind.

I was sorry that there wasn’t a 1950 in the tasting. That is a great wine as well. I think that the 1998 Cheval-Blanc may very well turn out to be very close to the amazing 1950. In fact, I think the 1998 is clearly better than the 2000 and most likely better than the 2005. Pierre Lurton, president of Cheval, agrees.

I think the 1998 will turn out to be better than the 1982, which was the wine of the 1980s in the tasting. And lived up to its lofty reputation. I scored it 97 points, non-blind. It’s still very young.

Classic beauty remains youthful in all things, even great reds.

Wayne Yetter
Bucks County PA —  November 10, 2007 8:00am ET
James,Thanks for the tasting notes on Cheval Blanc. Two weeks ago I attended a wine tasting and auction for the James Michner Art Museum in Doylestown PA and had the winning bid of a 1989. The bottle is now in my cellar - but the question is enjoy it with my family this coming holiday season or hold? Its hard just having one bottle
Sam Chanhao
calgary —  November 11, 2007 5:53pm ET
James,these are great wines and very very expensive.I's wonderring why not one..got a 100 point!!Always enjoy your blog.Thanks.
James Suckling
 —  November 11, 2007 8:25pm ET
Wayne: Here is the note from the tasting. 1989 Cheval-Blanc: Intense aromas of plums, tobacco and spices with hints of cigar box. Fresh. Turns to licorice. Full-bodied, with velvety tannins and ripe fruit. Turns to chocolate, berry and dried fruit. Very pretty and fresh. Better than I remember. Will improve for years to come. Drink now. 92 points, non-blind.
James Suckling
 —  November 11, 2007 8:26pm ET
Sam. Check out my blog on the 1947 Cheval on Monday or Tuesday.
Andrew Alley
Burlington, NC —  November 14, 2007 11:38am ET
James,Great blog ... it sure seems like HARD work tasting through a 50-year retrospective of one of the world's greatest wines. Here's a tough question considering that great Bordeaux often is very distinctive from one chateaux to the next. What wines would you recommend as Cheval alternatives (offering fantastic value and style and some of the same qualities as Cheval Blanc)? I know that you recommended Pontet Canet as a great value alternative to some of the 1st growth Medoc's, recently. How about for collectible and inspiring St-Emilion? What do you think of Fleur-Cardinale, Ch. Faugeres, etc.?
Wayne Yetter
Bucks County PA —  November 18, 2007 4:43pm ET
James,Thanks for your response to my question regarding my bottle of Cheval Blanc. I made a mistake on the year - it is a 1982 not a 1989. I had bid on and won three other 1st growth bottles that were 1989 - Lafite, Mouton and Margaux. Would your recommendation to drink change now that it is the '82?Thanks,Wayne

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