Best of the Best 2008: International Red Wines: Château Cheval Blanc 2005 St.-Émilion Grand Cru

One can say little about Château Cheval Blanc that has not been said already by someone, somewhere, sometime. But much of this commentary —centuries’ worth, in fact— bears repeating, if only for the tantalizing pleasure of kindling our expectations while we wait for the next vintage to mature. This is a wine that, once tasted, is never forgotten. I recently had the immense pleasure of attending a vertical tasting that included 34 vintages from the estate. Virtually all of the bottles came directly from the cellars of the château. It was the tasting of a lifetime.

Located at the edge of St.-Émilion, adjacent to the Pomerol border, Cheval Blanc makes wine from nearly equal parts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc; no other great Bordeaux contains as much of the latter varietal. The result is a wine that is delicious when young but that lasts for decades, developing complexity and bouquet with each passing year. My recent vertical culminated with the 1899 vintage, which was still lively and complex at the age of 108: silky, racy, and toasty, rich with rancio, dark amber in color, yet still remarkably fresh, balanced, and totally clean.

Château Cheval Blanc was owned by the Fourcaud-Laussac family for 166 years. They sold the property in 1998 to Bernard Arnault, the billionaire head of LVMH, and Albert Frère, the wealthiest man in Belgium. Pierre Lurton was installed as president and general manager of the estate, positions he also holds at Château d’Yquem. Both properties continue to thrive under his direction.

The 2005 vintage is not just exceptional; it is generally regarded by many Bordeaux vintners as the best in a half century. As might be expected, Cheval Blanc outperforms, exhibiting a heady nose of lush black fruit and spice followed by complex notes of cocoa, vanillin, and berry on the palate. It finishes as seamlessly as it begins.

Château Cheval Blanc, www.chateau-cheval-blanc.com ($1,100)

Photo by Antoine Bagot
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