Wine and Controversy at Château Cheval Blanc

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Wines from Château Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux, France's Saint-Émilion region are one of two to receive Saint-Émilion's prestigious Premier Grand Cru Classé (A) status, one of only two with this premier classification. Growing almost 60 percent Cabernet Franc, along with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, Château Cheval Blanc's wines have obtained legendary status around the world.


Sharing a common border with the estate that produces the most expensive wine in the world, Château Petrus, Château Cheval Blanc has produced wines since 1832. The Laussac-Fourcaud family purchased the land estate from Château Figeac, a large wine growing estate with hundreds of years of history in winemaking. The family began producing distinctive wines that won medals in the 1862 London Exhibition and the 1867 Paris Exhibition, winning worldwide acclaim. In 1955, Château Cheval Blanc received its Premier Grand CruClassé (A) designtation, and Belgian businessman Albert Frère purchased the estate from the Laussac-Fourcaud family in 1998. Frère currently owns two top level Bordeaux estates, Château Cheval Blanc and Chateau d'Yquem in Sauternes.

A Little Controversy

With a reputation for high-quality wines, criticism doesn't always go over well at Château Cheval Blanc. In the 1980s, Wine Advocate reviewer Robert Parker did a barrell tasting of the 1981 Château Cheval Blanc. The vintage in Saint-Émilion was a mediocre one that year, and Parker described the famous wine in his newsletter as "disappointing" and "mediocre." Displeased with this characterization, vineyard manager Jacque Hèbrard invited Parker to the estate to sample the wine again. Parker agreed. When he arrived at the estate, however, Hèbrard's miniature schnauzer attacked, biting down on the critic's calf and drawing blood according to Parker. Hèbrard stood and watched. Bleeding, Parker asked for a bandage. Instead, Hèbrard handed him a copy of the newsletter.

Jacque Hèbrard's story differs from Parker's, in that he claims Parker was not bleeding.

Parker did retaste the wine and changed his assessment.

The Vineyard

The 91.5 acre vineyard grows three varietals: Cabernet Franc, which accounts for 57 percent of the plantings, Merlot, which makes up 39 percent of the grapes grown, Cabernet Sauvignon, accounting for 3 percent of the grapes, and Malbec, which makes up the remaineder. The estate's soil has three distinct terroir characters, including gravelly mounds, sand and clay over blue clay, and sand and clay over iron deposits.The estate uses no pesticides or herbicides as they carefully cultivate 30+-year-old vines.

The Wines

Château Cheval Blanc currently produces two main wines, the eponymous Premier Cru Château Cheval Blanc, and the second tier wine, Le Petit Cheval. The winmaker hand sorts and selects the grapes, choosing only the best for Château Cheval Blanc. Less select grapes make up the Le Petit Cheval wines. Both wines age in 100 percent new French oak, although the time differs. Château Cheval Blanc ages for about 18 months, while Le Petit Cheval spends about a year in the casks.

1981 aside, criticis over the years have praised Château Cheval Blanc wines effusively. Seldom in the past two decades has Wine Spectator's Bordeaux expert, James Suckling rated the wine below 90 points, and more often than not he rated it in the collectible range of 95+ points. Over the years, Suckling has been ebullient in his praise, making comments such as, "Full-bodied, with amazing tannins and a long, long finish. This is so refined and long. Pure silk," and, "This is racy and very beautiful."

Le Petit Cheval receives respectable ratings, as well.The affordable little sister of Château Cheval Blanc generally rates in the upper 80 or lower 90 point range from wine reviewers, and may present a viable and tasty option to Château Cheval Blanc.

Where to Buy

Since these powerful wines are built to age, you will find decades old vintages in cellars waiting for the perfect occasion. The wine is breathtakingly expensive. You can expect to pay hundreds of dollars for a good vintage or a well-aged version of Château Cheval Blanc. Because of this, Château Cheval Blanc may be beyond the budgetary means of some wine shops. Look in high-end wine shops in upscale neighborhoods. If you'd rather shop from the comfort of your own home, use a tool such as Wine Searcher to winnow out a specific vintage. The tool will present you with the ability to search by vintage, and you just may discover wine auctions featuring rare old bottles. You can also check wine auction houses such as Wine Commune or Sotheby's Wine. If you do decide to purchase an older bottle at auction, do your homework to find out how long the wine could age and to ascertain to the best of your ability the seller has stored the wine under careful conditions.

May wine shops, such as the Wine Exchange, allow you to produce wine futures before the bottles themselves are released. You usually need to do this in quantities of three, six, or more, but it is a great way to reserve wine before the winery releases it.

Le Petit Cheval may be easier to come by. Many wine shops carry great estate's second wines. The secondary wine doesn't age as long, and tends to be more affordable, although by no means cheap. Wine Searcher can help you find bottles of this wine, as well.

Wine collectors the world over treasure Château Cheval Blanc wine. The unique mix of terroir and grape blends, as well as the careful grape selection and winemaking processes yields uniquely flavored wines of consistent quality. If you're looking for a bottle of investment grade wine, you can't go wrong with Château Cheval Blanc.

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Wine and Controversy at Château Cheval Blanc