Day Six, Final Stop: Domaine de Chevalier

I was very much looking forward to visiting this next estate.  At this point, Christina was probably getting tired of hearing me talk about how great their wines are – especially their whites.

Domaine de Chevalier was ranked as a Grand Cru Classe for both red and white wine in the classification of Graves wine in 1953 and 1959.  The Chateau is owned by the Bernard Family and is run by Olivier Bernard, whose family bought the estate in 1983 and totally renovated it.  The particular site for the estate is unusual in Bordeaux, in that it is surrounded by pine forests, which makes this site cooler than most of the surrounding areas.  This coolness in the vineyard, while more prone to damaging frost, gives the red and white wines a crisp freshness to their character.

One of Olivier’s sons, Adrien, works mainly in Shanghai, China, promoting their wines throughout Asia for 7 months of the year.  We were fortunate enough to catch Adrien while he was back in Bordeaux, so he gave us the tour of the estate that afternoon.  They had just dipped a toe into harvest that morning, and were constantly assessing the state of the grapes at this point.

Domaine de Chevalier.
Domaine de Chevalier.
The grapes at near harvest.  The estate had begun to pick some fruit that morning.
The grapes at near harvest. The estate had begun to pick some fruit that morning.

Domaine de Chevalier is a beautiful limestone estate that was rebuilt and expanded once the Bernard family purchased it.  The main vat room is a big circular room with the stainless steel vats along the outside wall and a large oculus window in the center of the domed ceiling.  The estate uses both concrete and stainless steel vats that are wider than they are tall, this is to increase the amount of contact the juice has with the skins that float up to the top, which is called the cap.  All of the different vineyard lots from the estate are vinified separately.  The estate is also experimenting with fermenting in a very large wooden egg (approx. 8 feet tall including stand), which commanded attention  as we toured.

The occulus vat room with a window at the top.
The stainless steel vat room with a window at the top.
The concrete vats.
The concrete vats.
The egg.  A bad picture, but hopefully a good experiment for the estate.
The egg. A bad picture, but hopefully a good experiment for the estate.

Domaine de Chevalier uses less new French oak than most Chateau in Bordeaux.  The estate ages their red wine in 50% new French oak barrels for approximately 18 months depending on the vintage.  The white wine is aged on its lees in 30% new French oak barrels, also for approximately 18 months, depending on the vintage and sugar levels.  The estate uses Stephane Derenoncourt and Denis Dubourdieu as consulting oenologists.

Bordeaux 2013 2852

Bordeaux 2013 2855

2007 Domaine de Chevalier (Rouge) – Very floral red fruit and spice on the nose, in the mouth sweet red and black fruit, bright acids, good minerality and fine tannins, medium-full bodied, long sweet fruit finish.  A very nice traditional Bordeaux style wine.

2012 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc – Very bright and floral white orchard fruit, with a touch of stony minerality on the nose.  In the mouth, sweet white peach and melon, bright acidity and some stony pebbles, with a nice long melon and lemony mineral finish.  This is a beautiful 2012 white Bordeaux.

An old cellar room, converted into an event space.
An old cellar room, converted into an event space.
Adrien uncovering a few treasures in the cellar.
Adrien pointed out a few treasures in the cellar while he told us about a recent party at the estate.

Domaine de Chevalier makes some very nice red and white wines that age very well.  The estate produces about 100,000 bottles of red wine and 18,000 bottles of white wine.  Even though the estate produces more red than white wine, they are probably best known for their dry white wine.  The estate produces one of the best dry white wines in all of Bordeaux, which will age for decades.  Both the red and white wines from Domaine de Chevalier are wines to look out for.  They are really nice Bordeaux wines that are still very reasonably price for the quality that you get in the bottle.  I very much look forward to drinking more of their red and white wines in the future.

Day Six, First Stop: Chateau Haut Brion

We tore out of our beautiful apartment on Monday morning and wound our way through town to our first destination. I was very much looking forward to visiting this Chateau, and was actually surprised to find it nestled just on the outskirts of town.

Chateau Haut Brion.
Chateau Haut Brion.
Bob and Christina Watt at Chateau Haut Brion.
Bob and Christina Watt at Chateau Haut Brion.

Out of all the First Growth Chateaux in Bordeaux, the wines of Chateau Haut Brion in Pessac-Leognan are some of my favorites.  I feel the wines of Ch. Haut Brion are more singular and unique in style than the other First Growths, it is also more geographically separated than the others as well.

We were first greeted by our wonderful hostess, Barbara, and we started things off with a short film about the history of the Chateau.  Chateau Haut Brion is the oldest of the First Growths from the 1855 classification and the vineyards were fully planted a century before the other First Growths.  Jean de Pontac married Jeanne de Bellon in 1525, from which part of the land of Haut Brion was brought in as a dowry.  Jean de Pontac bought the title to the Domaine of Haut Brion in 1533 and built the stone Chateau in 1549.  There is even evidence that the first vines planted around the property of Haut Brion date back to the first century A.D.  Chateau Haut Brion and neighboring Chateau La Mission Haut Brion are both owned by the Dillon family.  Clarence Dillon, an American financier, first purchased Ch. Haut Brion in 1935.  Today, Prince Robert of Luxembourg is President of Domaine Clarence Dillon and the fourth generation of the Dillon family to manage this First Growth Estate.

The beautiful estate.
A building on the estate.

After the film, Barbara gave us a tour around the Chateau.  Haut Brion makes great Bordeaux wines by combining the use of modern technology with their traditional winemaking.  Haut Brion uses large stainless steel vats that are split into two compartments each (one above and one below), so they can ferment two separate grape lots in one large cylindrical vat. Three generations of the Delmas family have been making the wines for the estate in turn since 1923, with Jean-Phillipe Delmas as the General Manager today.  Haut Brion is also one of the very few Chateaux that has their own fulltime cooper making French oak barrels.  This Monday morning the cooper was already hard at work making barrels and the smell of French oak filled the air.

The vats.
The beautiful vat room.
It was fun to see the cooper at work.
It was fun to see the cooper at work.
The cellar.
The cellar.

We walked around the property a bit on the way to our tasting, it was just beautiful.  The second we set foot in the orangery, Christina exclaimed that she wished she could throw a party there.  I’m certain that it has housed many a distinguished event.

Another part of the chateau.
Another part of the chateau.
The grounds.
The grounds.
More of the property.
More of the property.
I can't remember what this room was original - I think perhaps a cellar room, but it looks like it could host a killer party now.
The former orangery is used today as a tasting room and looks like it could host a great party now.
Bordeaux 2013 188
Another view of the room.
If only...
The smallest bottles are regular 750ml bottles.  I think the larger bottles would look good in my cellar!

It was a little early to start the serious tasting, but we were up for the challenge.  We were able to taste the 2007 vintages of La Mission Haut Brion and Haut Brion.  Here are my notes:

2007 La Mission Haut Brion – Absolutely beautiful floral nose of red/black fruits and spices, very delicate.  In the mouth the wine is medium-full bodied with a core of black fruit flavors complicated with baking spices.  There is very good acidity with fine tannins following through to a very nice long sweet fruit filled finish.  It is almost like lace in the way that it is very detailed and delicate.  This is a beautiful wine that is all about the subtle details.

2007 Haut Brion – Bigger, darker black fruit nose with huge spice.  Full bodied ripe blackberry fruit combined with loads of baking spices, gravel and burning embers.  The wine has very good acidity, extremely fine but noticeable tannins and a beautifully long spicy fruit finish.  This is an absolutely gorgeous wine that is drinking well now, but will age gracefully over the next decade or even two.  The 2007 Haut Brion will be a great wine to drink while you are waiting for the 2000, 2005 and 2006 vintages to come to maturity.

Next up, Chateau Pape-Clement…