The notes that accompany Château Cheval Blanc in 2013 describe the vintage as ‘a minefield’. There were casualties. The team here produced no Château Quinault L’Enclos this year after a late July hailstorm effectively destroyed the crop. The hail missed Cheval Blanc but the other myriad meteorological hazards that affected the growing season could not be escaped. Even with great terroir, a dedicated team and all the resources available in the winemaking world, Cheval Blanc remains a delicate effort in 2013. Measured and not at all forced, it will doubtless fill out during elévage, but it will always remain elegant in style.
The cool and wet spring delayed vine growth substantially at Cheval Blanc. Budburst was a week later than usual, and flowering two weeks late. Hot and dry weather in July and August did not speed up phenology particularly [though it did help burn out any risk of green characters in the fruit]. As a result veraison [the period of colour change in the grapes] was the latest the property has seen in 25 years. Mildew pressure was present throughout the season and at harvest mild but damp weather produced considerable botrytis pressure. It meant, as elsewhere, risky harvest choices had to be made between waiting for better ripeness but risk losing an increasing quantity of fruit to rot.
The property did what it could in the conditions – green harvests at the end of veraison to help homogenous ripening; careful sorting to exclude rotten fruit in the vineyard and at the winery; a gentle approach to the fruit in the [futuristic] cellars.
As I’ve said at the top, 2013 has yielded a small volume [18hl/ha] of elegant wine at Cheval Blanc. There is fine structure and good purity and the grand vin. It does not feel forced at all. That said for me it is not at the very top of St Emilion’s tree this year. Still it is very early days and the wine may fill out much more during elévage. In that sense I may have underrated it in score terms [easy to do with Cheval Blanc]. The second wine, Le Petit Cheval, is light, perfumed and pretty.
Price? Well, it’s hardly a snip at £3250 a case [$5500] and it’s difficult to imagine this wine finding many takers apart from extremely wealthy collectors. As Liv-Ex have recently pointed out in their more recent analysis [www.live-ex.com], half a dozen back vintages of Cheval Blanc are currently available for less. And for me Château Canon and Clos Fourtet, amongst quite a few others, have made wine just as good, if not better this year. These can all be bought at a fraction of the price.
Château Cheval Blanc, St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A’
Mid depth; elegant colour; vibrant at edge; perfumed aromatics with some delicacy; spices; nice entry on the palate; elegant with fine structure. Spices and attractive fruit flavours. Very measured and not at all forced. Delicate style that will doubtless fill out during elévage. [53% Cabernet Franc, 47% Merlot, 18hl/ha]. Drink 2018-2034. 90-92
Le Petit Cheval, St Emilion Grand Cru
Mid depth; quite light at the centre; spicy and pretty aromatics; elegance; some perfume; elegant palate, some spicy plum characters. Nice balance. Appetizing if lacking density. [79% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc]. Drink 2018-2024. 85-87