Domaine de Chevalier—White Bordeaux at its Best

Wine and art: the perfectly symmetrical fermentation room located at the center of Domaine de Chevalier.

It’s the most amazing Sauvignon Blanc wine I’ve yet tasted, and it’s not from New Zealand, nor Sancerre. It’s from the Graves region, located just south of Bordeaux within the appellation of Pessac-Léognan. The producer is Domaine de Chevalier (and I’ll make a quick disclaimer by saying I’m generally not a fan of the traditional grassy, vegetal, and sometimes “litter box” notes commonly associated with Sauvignon Blanc. This wine, a first label blanc from 2006, had none of that).

Domaine de Chevalier is one of only six properties to receive Cru Classé de Graves distinction for both its red and white wines from the 1959 Graves Classification. We were fortunate to have a guided tour presented by owner, Olivier Bernard, who so passionately described the property that I was literally salivating five minutes into his speech (for sure, the best tour guide I’ve encountered—anywhere!).

Bernard explained that quality is the #1 focus at Domaine de Chevalier. Regardless of whether a vintage is predicted to be good or bad, they invest as much as possible into every vintage to assure buyers of consistent quality. A good example was how they sold their entire ’08 vintage (considered a poor year) to merchants in just one morning on the Bordeaux futures markets.

Domaine de Chevalier spends 400x more on harvesting than the average Bordeaux producer by hand-selecting all grapes—often revisting the same plots 5x to pick the grapes as they reach their prime. For the sauvignon blanc, “we only pick the gold berries,” Bernard explains.  Grapes also are harvested just in the morning, when they are their freshest and retain the best aromatic expression.

Soils are a composition of gravel, sand, and clay (you’ll notice many plots are lined with white pebbles as you enter the property). No fertilizers or pesticides are used because these chemicals prevent the roots from going deep, where the best minerality is obtained. In fact, Bernard explained that pesticides cause the roots to come back to the surface, resulting in a mass production of green fruit. I asked if the property was organic, which he responded it wasn’t simply because they must use a chemical to fight mildew—the biggest natural hazard to this region. However, I liked how he used the term “biodynamic inspiration” to describe their growing philosophy. According to Bernand, wine is the “soul of the earth”.

Tasting Time!

Though most properties start you off with their dry white wine, we began with the red: Domaine de Chevalier’s first label 2003 rouge is composed of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. This wine was full of complexity, with a nose of bright red cherries, biscuit/toast, and a slight gamey quality. The taste was quite different—a medium-bodied wine with an abundant of floral notes (predominately rose and violet), along with black cherry, some vanilla and toffee from the oak aging, and wrapped up with a silky mouthfeel that had a slight sweetness on the finish. When asked, I was told this wine retails for EUR 45.

Then came the homerun hitter: Domaine de Chevalier’s first label 2006 blanc. This wine is 85% Sauvignon Blanc blended with 15% Sémillon. Both varieties were vinified and aged separately for 4 months. Afterwards, they were blended together and aged for another year in French oak barrels. The color was light gold and crystal clear. The nose was a blend of exotic fruits, notably passion fruit, citrus and mango, together with a pleasant stony aroma (definately gravel). The taste had an incredible minerality to it with excellent acidity—something you’d normally find in a good Chablis. Yet, there was also some buttery notes from the oak-aging, as well as a distinct pineapple flavor. What also makes this wine unique is its aging potential. Bernard told me that you could cellar this wine for ten years—certainly not your average Sauvignon Blanc!

Oh, and the price? EUR 70/bottle (or EUR 35 for the half-bottles, which we sampled). Though no small price-tag, this wine is definately worth every cent.

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