Chateau Domaine de Chevalier
|Listed Wines||Domaine de Chevalier|
|Owner||Lucien Bernard et Cie|
|Annual Production (Grand Vin)||7,000 cases (red), 1,200 (blanc)|
|Classification||Cru Classe de Graves|
|Second Wine||L’Esprit de Chevalier|
|Interesting Fact||The owners of Domaine de Chevalier, the Bernard family, have a long history dating all the way back to the 1155.|
Nestled in a secluded forest clearing, Domaine de Chevalier is an intriguing mix of authentic approaches to Graves viticulture and cutting edge infrastructure and technology.
Olivier Bernard, a shrewd businessman who was elected President of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux in late 2012, has been careful to plough investment into what was his first Bordeaux property. For years, profits have been used to enhance the estate’s technology and infrastructure – in the cellar and chai particularly. This has included the construction of a cutting edge cold-room, technology found only in one other Bordeaux winery – First Growth Chateau Margaux. His efforts are paying off in critical reception, as work put in in the 1980s began reaping rewards around the turn of the 21st century. RJP scores have been creeping steadily up - In the 16 vintages since 2000 tasted in-bottle, the red has achieved a 92.2 point-average and the white a 94-point average.
Clive Coates names Domaine de Chevalier it in the same breath as Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, as the very best producers in Graves. In fact, its wines can be compared favourably with both; among the three it has shown the most reliable price growth (average +20.20% returns across all vintages since 2000), though from a more approachable price base than the two heavy-hitters of the region. With expansion to the vineyards and canny use of his familial links with major negociant Millésima, it is clear that Olivier Bernard has big plans for Domaine de Chevalier. At the same time, the owner has been vocal about his desire to stay true to the regional character of his classically Pessac-Leognan wines, and of his distaste of a speculative attitude to wine pricing. This means that Bernard’s vintages, particularly the vin rouge, often seem under-priced upon release when compared to those from Médoc estates producing wines of a similarly lofty quality.
Domaine de Chevalier produces both red and white wines and taking a long-term view, it is the latter which has garnered the greater critical praise - though over the last twenty years or so, the red has been catching up quickly under the efforts of Olivier Bernard.
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge - which has admittedly has never been average -has really come into its own under Olivier Bernard who made sure the care and attention paid to the Blanc were extended across the estate’s entire production. Robert Parker Jr has called the refined and elegant vin rouge, Cabernet Sauvignon blended with a good amount of Merlot and a little Cabernet Franc, “a connoisseur's wine”.
Domaine de Chevalier Blanc is based on Sauvignon Blanc blended with Sémillion and is often described as having a rich, Burgundian texture owing to the fermentation process and ‘bombage’ technique. Most recently James Suckling awarded the 2010 vintage an “almost perfect” score of 99-100. With a great propensity for ageing – a decade, two or three in colder years - and slight production volumes, the whites are also appetizing from an investor’s perspective.
Beginning its winemaking life under the Gascon name ‘Chivaley’, Domaine de Chevalier has been a leading light in Graves for well over a century. Its history has been intertwined with that of the Ricard family since 1865, when they purchased the estate and got about replanting what had been neglected and frostbitten vines. The property then passed along the family line, with significant improvements cementing a strong following of its wines, particularly that of its white offering, by the turn of the 20th century.
In 1948, the estate was inherited by one Claude Ricard; a 21-year-old just out of Bordeaux University, where he had studied under the famed Emile Peynaud, who later advised at the estate. In 1983, Claude Ricard sold the estate to Lucien Bernard et Cie, the largest brandy distilling company in France. The takeover was agreeable; the new owner Olivier Bernard allowing Claude to remain as manager. Bernard, with little prior wine experience, threw himself into learning the ins and outs of winemaking here and found a great aptitude. He took a front seat in 1988, and continues as manager to this day, working alongside a team that includes three of Claude Ricard’s daughters.
In 2014 the facilities were updated again and in 2015 they were the first major Bordeaux Chateaux to use Diam corks.
Chateau Domaine de Chevalier Pricing
Highest rated vintages for Chateau Domaine de Chevalier
In late 2011, I had the last bottle in my cellar of the 1970 Domaine de Chevalier. Much to my surprise, it was still holding on to life and remained gorgeously complex in that ethereal Graves style. The 2009, one of the finest Domaine de Chevaliers yet produced, reveals a striking bouquet of burning embers, sweet cherry, black and red currant fruit, spice box, cedar and lead pencil shavings. The tannins are sweet in this fleshy, full-bodied offering. It is built on the notion of extraordinary harmony, elegance and complexity. While not the most concentrated or flamboyant 2009, its intense aromas are already reasonably evolved and its lusciousness and balance are terrific. Made from an interesting blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot, its yields of 45 hectoliters per hectare were slightly higher than many of its neighbors achieved. Drink it over the next 25 years.
This is one of my all-time favorite wines from Domaine de Chevalier, a silky, rather classic Pessac-Leognan with notes of scorched earth, tobacco leaf and black and red currants, but no hard edges. Fragrant, complex aromatics are followed by a savory, expansively flavored wine made from a final blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. The wine hit 13.5% natural alcohol, which must certainly be among the highest they have ever achieved, even eclipsing the 2009. An opulent, precocious style of wine that seems much more developed, complex and delicious than I thought from barrel, this beauty can be drunk in 5-6 years or cellared for 20 or more.
One of the stars of the vintage, it boasts a dense purple color as well as a big, sweet bouquet of red and black currants, graphite, subtle flowers and well-integrated, toasty oak. Impressively built rich and medium to full-bodied without losing the quintessential elegance and finesse for which this famous estate is renowned, the 2012 Domaine de Chevalier is filled with purity, equilibrium and balance. The tannins are sweet enough that this wine should be accessible when released, and will last for 15-20 years. Is this a modern day clone of their brilliant 1953 (which I drank from magnum at Bern's Steak House in November for less than $500!)? I was joking with proprietor Olivier Bernard, who is now the president of the Union des Grands Crus, that his position seems to be accompanied by much higher scores from wine critics. Nevertheless, there is no question that Domaine de Chevalier has been on a relatively hot streak lately, and this 2012 is a beauty.
A spectacular effort, especially for this challenging vintage, Olivier Bernard's 2011 Domaine de Chevalier boasts a dense ruby/purple color as well as a big, sweet bouquet of subtle charcoal, graphite, black currants and black cherries. Rich and full-bodied with a multilayered mouthfeel and a long, complex, stunning finish, this is a profound example of a 2011 from a great terroir. Consume it over the next 20 years.
One of the fabulous sleepers of the vintage and a wine for serious Bordeaux afficionados to consider buying, the 2008 is a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 9% Petit Verdot that achieved 13.5% natural alcohol. Surprisingly backward for a 2008, it is medium to full-bodied with moderate tannins, lots of purity and abundant charcoal, black currant and floral notes. The sweetness of the fruit, depth of flavor and textured, lush mouthfeel in this medium to full-bodied, ageworthy 2008 are impressive. Give it 3-4 years of cellaring and drink it over the following two decades. I would not be surprised if it turns out to be as impressive as the 2010.
Perhaps the finest wine made at this estate in many years (no doubt due to the influence of wine consulting guru Stephane Derenoncourt), the 2005 is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest primarily Merlot with tiny portions of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. A dark ruby/purple hue is followed by a classic Graves bouquet of charcoal, graphite, creosote, smoked herbs, sweet black cherries, and spice box. The wine is elegant on the attack, but fills out beautifully with a multilayered, rich mouthfeel, silky tannins, and a plush, opulent finish. This brilliant claret may turn out to be even better than my score suggests. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2030+.
The brilliant St.-Emilion-based consultant, Stephane Derenoncourt, is working his magic at this great vineyard in Leognan. The 2006, a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and the rest Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, is a revelation of sweet, lush, black raspberry and black currant fruit intermixed with subtle notes of scorched earth and barbecue spices. Round, luscious, sexy, and exceptionally complex, the wine is dominated by that smoky minerality that comes from this area. It is the quintessentially elegant yet substantial Pessac-Leognan with class, complexity, and potential. Despite wanting to drink most of the bottle when I was tasting it, I know it will be even better with 2-4 years of bottle age, and should keep for two decades.
One of the vintage's top successes, this blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and the rest Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot exhibits a juicy, black currant, forest floor, and soil-scented nose. Layered with brilliant precision, purity, and density, it is a medium to full-bodied, elegant, intensely flavored, soft, upfront blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and the rest Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It should drink well for 10-15 years.
Abundant notes of sandy, loamy soil, forest floor, black currants, cherries, and unsmoked high-class cigar tobacco jump from the glass of this complex, perfumed Pessac-Leognan. Medium-bodied and lighter than many 2000s, it has resolved all of its tannin, and appears to have reached full maturity. This wine has such superb balance that I suspect it will last another 8-10 years.
Made from an unusual blend for this great estate, the 2013 Domaine de Chevalier is composed of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot (no Petit Verdot), and the total production was less than half of normal. The wine achieved 13% natural alcohol, but yields were frightfully low. The result is an outstanding effort in this frequently disappointing, average quality vintage. The wine possesses a deep plum/ruby color as well as a sweet bouquet of incense, charcoal, red and black currants, and loamy soil. Medium-bodied with good texture, depth and purity, sweet tannins, and present but unobtrusive acidity, it should drink nicely for 12-15 years. Once again, it proves that Domaine de Chevalier often accomplishes impressive things in so-called “off” vintages.