At Château Cheval-Blanc, both director Pierre Lurton and technical director Pierre-Olivier Clouet seem to bubble with enthusiasm at all times. I guess it's because they've settled into the new chai, which is both visually stunning and an inspiration in itself, as well as being one of the smartest modern showpiece cellars I've ever seen. Rows of 52 pear shaped cement vats line a massive room, each individually sized to accommodate the 45 different parcels that form the 96 acres of vines here.
For background on Cheval-Blanc and its sister properties, start with my 2013 blog notes.
"2014 was cool and rainy in the start of August and it took a while to dry up because it was so cool and humid. But then September and October were dry, and veraison took place closer to the end of August when the climactic conditions changed, which was key. We wound up with smaller berries to, which were easier to ripen through the Indian summer. The favored spots this year were gravel, because they dried faster than the clay," said Clouet.
That favored terroir shows in the 2014 Château Quinault L'Enclos St.-Emilion. The estate's 47 acres of vines are situated almost entirely on gravel. It shows nice tension, with a loamy edge providing spine to the red currant and warmed plum notes. Lingering alder and iron hints add range, and this has more depth than usual, perhaps from the first-time addition of Cabernet Sauvignon to the 69/18/13 blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
"We want density in the wine, but not through extraction," said Clouet. "We would rather add the density through the addition of Cabernet than pumping over extra on vats of Merlot or Cabernet Franc."
With the Indian summer, harvest at Cheval-Blanc stretched from Sept. 18 to Oct. 8, a little later than usual.
"It's a good vintage for Merlot, but also a great vintage for the Cabernet Franc because the vintage went so late and under ideal conditions," said Lurton.
I asked Lurton and Clouet if they would rather pick early or late, risking underripeness or overripeness.
"I'd actually prefer to be the first to pick and the last to pick," said Clouet. "We want heterogeneity from plot to plot—that's the terroir and the blending for complexity. But in each plot, we want homogeneity for the quality. With this new vat room—a vat for every parcel—we don't have to choose under- or overripe. We don't have to fill a vat with two parcels just to fill a vat, and thus make a compromise. We can get every parcel right at the time we want."
The 2014 Château Cheval-Blanc St.-Emilion Le Petit Cheval represents 25 percent of the crop. The blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc is very charming, with bright red currant and damson plum fruit laced with a lively minerality and a lilting bergamot note. Long and silky and almost approachable now, but the acidity is so fine and long this could be sneaky long in the cellar.
The grand vin 2014 Château Cheval-Blanc St.-Emilion represents 75 percent of the crop—that's a typical percentage. What is unusual in '14 is that no wine was sold off (only press wine).
"The young-vine parcels, which might sometimes be culled from either wine, were so good this year, we kept everything," said Clouet."
A classic Cheval-Blanc blend of 55/45 Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the wine is reserved aromatically for now, but this has a lot at its clutch, with remarkably silky plum, currant and raspberry fruit inlaid seamlessly with alder wood, rooibos tea and bergamot notes. There's a fine minerality that stretches out the finish, with remarkable cut, delineation and finesse. It's a gorgeous and early candidate for wine of the vintage (if you don't count Sauternes …)
That's because the 2014 Château d'Yquem Sauternes is utterly beguiling, with acacia, jasmine and honeysuckle notes leading the way, followed by refined peach, tangerine and yellow apple fruit flavors. The racy finish is long, long, long with a lemon chiffon note lingering delicately. With its racy profile, it's in the mold of the '01 and '11, but perhaps just a hair shy of concentration when compared to those two spectacular Yquem vintages.
"Thirty percent of the blend was made from earlier-picked fruit that was very, very fresh, picked at the end of the first week of September," said Lurton. "Then the later pickings we selected the different generations of botrytis fruit, as we got a little rain and a little sun alternating during that perfect Indian summer. We could combine the two sides—fresh and rich—but the hallmark of the vintage is its freshness."