When Sleep Deprived & Parched, There's No Place Like Domaine de Chevalier

by Chuck Hayward

When Sleep Deprived & Parched, There's No Place Like Domaine de Chevalier

Post by John Perry | April 8th, 2011

While my colleagues from the south may be able to cope with the temps in Bordeaux this week, 80 degrees is roasting for this northern California guy.  Couple that with tasting 50-100+ wines in a day and the insanity of Bordeaux rush hour traffic, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.  Thankfully, we wound up at Domaine de Chevalier for dinner, which would turn out to be one of my most memorable experiences in Bordeaux.

Olivier Bernard: A true gentleman

With the mood set—lack of sleep, spent palate, hot weather, traffic jams, getting lost—we pulled up to Domaine de Chevalier looking something like The Bad News Bears. Outside to greet us was the owner of the property, Olivier Bernard, whose reputation had preceded him. My boss had told me that Olivier is a really intelligent and charming guy, and the negociant who drove me to the property confirmed this. But meeting him in person, I was blown away by his generosity, relaxed personality, and philosophy about wine.

Sporting a suntanned face, calloused hands, and the build of a linebacker, you immediately get the sense that he’s completely down to earth and connected to the land here, despite being the owner of one of the best properties in Pessac.  He welcomed us into the entrance of the cellars, and seemed to know that, instead of wine, what we’re really needed was a glass of water!  With our thirst quenched, rather than pouring the 2010, he offered us a tour, telling us he knew we had very likely had the wine multiple times this week (which we had) and that there was no need to strain us further when “relaxation is the only thing on the agenda.”

You should see the bird that laid this!

After a quick tour of the barrel rooms and a look at the steel and concrete vats, we came into a room with a large oak barrel shaped like an egg, a pretty novel concept in winemaking. While there have been many estates branching out and making wine in concrete eggs, this is apparently the first of its kind to be made of oak.  Olivier explained that it takes a very special mathematical formula to create this unique design out of wood, which is only fitting given his noticeable reverence for numbers.  Case in point: he likes to serve wines from vintages that end in the same number, as we would find out over dinner.

Following outstanding hors d'ouerves and champagne, we went inside for dinner.  The first wine was identified as Bordeaux blanc, and Domaine de Chevalier makes some very long lived and terrific whites.  Served with crawfish in beure blanc sauce, it was a pairing made in heaven.  Olivier revealed the wine as 2000 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc, so we now had an idea of where we might be going with the reds.  We followed with the 1970, 1990 and 2000 Domaine de Chevalier rouge and they all showed wonderfully, ideal partners to the cuisine.  To keep going with the theme, we finished with 2000 Guiraud, a property in Sauternes where Olivier is a partner.

If only all bottles were this good (and this big)

Olivier and his wife Anne were fantastic hosts.  So often we attend dinners at chateaux that range anywhere from 10 to 100 people, so to be welcomed into the Bernards’ home, without the pressure of focusing solely on the new vintage, was a real treat.

While making pleasantries outside as we were about to depart, it struck me how fine-tuned the other senses become after one’s palate has been pushed to the limit for days on end. The smell of the freshly tilled earth, the aromas of new oak in the barrel room, the joy of standing on soft grass in the backyard (with a glass of champagne), the complex smells that emanate from older wine and the unique ruby and gold colors that radiate from them – these are the moments and little snippets of time that will always draw me back to this region and I have to thank the Bernard family and Domaine de Chevalier for giving me the opportunity to have those experiences.

Check out some footage from our tasting at Domaine de Chevalier: