April 4 - Lunch at Cheval Blanc

by Chuck Hayward

After tasting the ’05 Cheval as well as the ’05 Petit Cheval with the young winemaker, Olivier Berrouet, we were led on a tour of the facilities.

Once inside the Chateau, we were joined by Bruce Schoenfeld, a contributing editor for Wine Spectator, and then greeted by Pierre Lurton. I think it’s important to give you an idea of what this man is like. Pierre comes from the famous Lurton family, one of Bordeaux’s most influential dynasties. If you can imagine one of those fancy paintings from the 1800’s of some famous aristocrat – that is Pierre. He is the center of attention, has an air about him that is magnetic, is extremely arrogant but polite, has no mercy for the not so fortunate, and is someone whose path you probably do not want to cross unless you are in to self-destruction, public humiliation, or that sort of thing. Having said that, I have to say…I genuinely liked the guy. He was a character like nobody I had ever expected to meet in person – outside a character in a Marcel Proust novel. He just plays the role like no one else can and he clearly will do whatever he can to stay on top.

Now for the lunch…We started with a ’90 Ruinart Blanc de Blanc along with beautifully presented hors d’oeuvres. The chef today was the famous Philippe Etchebest, who won chef of the year in France last year. My, oh my was this going to be a treat. I was seated next to Olivier, a fun loving guy, who’s the son of the famous Jean Claude Berrouet, the longtime oenologist at Petrus. By the way, Olivier now visits California four times a year in order to be more involved in Newton Vineyards, another property of LVMH.

We were served the ’00 Le Petit Cheval with the first course of ‘Cubism of Duck three ways’: smoked foie gras, herb salad, and a confit of duck. This was a wine of wonderful elegance and soft velvety texture, with notes of cab franc perfume. Then came the ’96 and ’86 Cheval Blanc. The ’96 had a medium body and a gorgeous nose of eucalyptus and mint while the ’86 was a more powerful wine, although elegant as well. Notes of cherry and plum, with undertones of tobacco and cedar.

We talked a bit about the ’05 futures prices and Pierre revealed very little…just that ‘I will let the others go first’ (meaning that he will let the other Chateaux release their wines first to set the price). As for the ’05 Cheval, Pierre said it has more sweetness and is fatter relative to the ’00. It’s a classic vintage, where the merlot is not overripe and the Franc is complex. As for wines to drink today, Pierre likes the ’83, ’85, and ’89. The second course of (in French) ‘Lotte petit bateau et les premiers legumes en cocotte luttee, jus de viande et beurre brun’ was accompanied by the ’86 Cheval Blanc.

Before we were served our dessert of strawberries three ways, Pierre accidentally breaks his Riedel wine glass on the table. He is left holding the top three inches of the stem and bowl – the rest of the stem is on the table! Of course Pierre thinks it’s hilarious and says “Aahh, look, I’ve invented a new glass!” (Not quite, as it resembles the ‘O’ glass by Riedel). He calls over one of his staff and the man says to Pierre “You drink all day!” Pierre laughs…as do the rest of us.