Log In / Join Now

Perfect with Blemishes and All

Posted: Nov 12, 2007 4:55pm ET

It’s the perfect imperfect wine – 1947 Cheval Blanc. I am sure most of you have heard about this legendary red. It’s ageless. It’s also priceless. And it’s also probably the most counterfeited wine of them all.

Yet I had a perfect bottle of the wine about a week ago in Los Angeles, during a vertical tasting of the great St. Emilion estate. Check out my previous blog. And look at the video with this. I also did a vertical of Chateau d’Yquem, the famous Sauternes. The tastings were organized by collector Bipin Desai and Pierre Lurton, head of both estates who attended the tastings in Southern California.

Each time I taste the 1947 Cheval (assuming the bottle is real) I am amazed by its richness, complexity and depth of fruit and flavor. Here is my non-blind score and tasting note from the LA event:

1947 Cheval-Blanc: Dark ruby garnet. Dense color. Incredible nose of ultraripe fruit with masses of prune and coffee. Turns to crushed raspberries with a sugar undertone. Like raspberry tart. Full-bodied, extremely powerful and dense. Port-like. Incredible. It is so rich and decadent. Such sweet, ripe fruit. Turns to coffee and spice with fruit tea. Not sure what to say. I am speechless. The legend lives. 100 points, non-blind.

What's amazing is that the wine is almost totally flawed. There are many technical problems with this red, including four to six grams of residual sugar, and a volatile acidity of 1.2 grams, according to Lurton. He also said it had about 14.4 percent alcohol, which was high for those days.

No top winery today in the world would release a wine with those kinds of figures. Most critics would probably slaughter it with low points if it were made today. Yet the Cheval 1947 is a legend. Some say it is the greatest wine ever produced.

Makes you think. Perhaps we are all looking at perfection in a wine in the wrong way?

Horacio Campana / Butler Me
Monterrey, Mexico —  November 12, 2007 8:00pm ET
James, Is that Jancis in the background?
James Suckling
 —  November 12, 2007 10:00pm ET
Yes. That is Jancis. She came for some of the tastings. I think she was promoting a new book or something as well.
George Fischer
Cleveland, Ohio —  November 13, 2007 10:36am ET
James, can you please explain your comment that a wine like that would never get released today? Would it be because of its taste as a young wine or would it be strictly a decision based on the wine's chemical composition?
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  November 13, 2007 12:35pm ET
James -- great blog. It is always interesting to read tasting notes from different critics. For instance, people accuse CA wines of having low scores / high prices -- is this because CA wines really aren't that good or are overpriced or is it because JL has different tastes than you (or other critics) and just "stingier" with his numerical ratings? I would love for you to throw some of the 1947 Cheval Blanc in with a CA cab tasting and get his blind impression -- given his recent blog about scoring wines with VA and RS low. Would it get a 100 pts?? Or would it get a 72??
Larry Schaffer
Central Coast —  November 13, 2007 2:33pm ET
James,What was the stated alcohol on the bottle and has someone taken a recent alc on this wine? Curious to hear what it is . . . Thanks!
James Suckling
 —  November 13, 2007 5:23pm ET
I think that most top wineries today would not release a wine with such high VA and residual sugar. They would have the analysis from the lab and decide not to put it on the market. I think the bottle said 14 percent. May be I am wrong?
Larry Schaffer
Central Coast —  November 13, 2007 6:42pm ET
James,Thanks for the reply. Not so sure that most wineries would shy away from those numbers - it would be interesting to test some of the high end rhones and cal-rhone reds to see where their VA numbers are. And as far as RS numbers go, it would be interesting to see where some top Aussie shirazes come out at . . . If there is any left, or if anyone knows, it would be great to see what the actual alc level is in that wine . . . And if it was 14% at that time, wouldn't that have been much much higher than most others back then? Curious to hear . . . Thanks!
Mike Roberts
Neerbeek, Netherlands —  November 14, 2007 6:33am ET
I am trying to see if any one has heard or seen any reviews on the 2005 Chateau La Croix Meunier, St. Emilion? I would appreciate any feedback advaice; I tried a bottle here at my home in the Netheralands and truly enjoyed it last night. I am not sure it is imported to the U.S. I am buying lots of the 2005 bordeaux's... really a classic vintage. Many thanks,Mike Roberts
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  November 14, 2007 10:19am ET
Interesting comments on the '47. Esp noting the underlying concern for conterfeiting. I was priveledged enough to attend a friend's trade tasting w/ Piero Incisa della Rochetta of Sassicaia. He pointed out how the wine, not by design, but by what the vineyard was giving, had increased in alc levels(global warming??). The '87 Sassicaia (vino da tavola on the label) was 12.5%, the '94 just 12%!! The '03 hit 14%, the 1st time ever for Sassicaia. I cannot imagine what the wine folks back then thought of the '47 Cheval Blanc at 14%.
Richard Horvath
November 14, 2007 6:30pm ET
Sounds like a bottle that I would love to (and probably could never afford) try. Out of curiosity, what do you think the critical reception for this wine would be if it were released today?
Jesper Hedegaard
November 14, 2007 7:07pm ET
I have heard from Michel Rolland, that Cheval Blanc 1947 is 15% alcohol, even if the bottle says 14%.
Paul Rakovich
Las Vegas —  November 16, 2007 6:57pm ET
Hi James,

This is completely unrelated, but I wanted to say thanks for introducing me to the world of 100 point cigars last weekend. Talk about changing your idea of what a cigar can be! WOW! The 100 point wines weren't bad either!

Paul Rakovich

Assistant Sommelier - Delmonico Steakhouse
James Suckling
 —  November 17, 2007 12:07pm ET
Hey Paul. Fun hanging with you and Kevin. Long night though. 100 points all around!

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.