Wine Media Guild Tasting and Lunch at Felidia Restaurant with Olivier Bernard, owner of Domaine de Chevalier and Cellar Master Gabriel Vialard and owner Robert Wilmers of Chateau Haut-Bailly
I had just finished tasting all of the wine and was standing with a few other members of the Wine Media Guild when Olivier Bernard, the owner of Domaine de Chevalier stopped to join us. He is a very personable, charming man with a great sense of humor. We spoke about the differences in the wine and food when you move from one area of France to another and how the people in the area around Paris, the coast and the interior all have very different attitudes.
Later when he was speaking about wine, he caught my attention when he said that he had great respect for the terroir. Wine must be an expression of the soil and the wine maker must always keep this in mind. He went on to say that concentration in wine making is natural but extraction is human interference. It is easy to make big wine but difficult to make fine wine.
At the lunch that followed I was sitting next to Gabriel Vialard the Cellar Master for Ch. Haut-Bailly. Mr. Vialard said that both properties are very close to each other but I could taste a difference in the wines. He said that part of the reason for this was the soil. At Domaine de Chevalier it is manily gravelly black sand, a subsoil of clay and gravel mixed with iron rich sandstone. At Haut-Bailly the makeup of the soil is different. There is a mosaic of soils, the best being a compact clay-based subsoil with gravel on top.
He also made it clear that they only make red wine. Of the vines planted 64% is cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc. What was unique was a 100 year old parcel of mixed vines: malbec, carmenere, and petit verdot and it represented 20% of the blend each year.
We tasted three whites from Domaine de Chevalier: 2007, 2005 and 2001. They all had a very pleasant grass aroma and flavors with a mineral quality and, good acidity .The 2001 was still very fresh and also complex.
Oliver Bernard said that his winery produced white wine made from 70% sauvignon blanc and 30% semillon. There is a very careful selection process in the vineyard, the juice is cold settled and fermented in oak barrels, 35 % of which are new. The wine spends 18 months in barrel, longer than any other dry white in Bordeaux.
The reds are made from 64% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 3% cabernet franc and 3% petit verdot.
We tasted the red wine side by side from 2007-2000.I asked Mr.Vialard about the vintages. He said that the 2001, 2004 and 2006 would last a long time. The 2005 is one of those great vintages that do not come along often. 2002 was a good value and 2003 lacked acidity; both were good buys but would not age well. 2000 was a wine with good tannin and 2007 was a light vintage and he put more cabernet sauvignon than usual in the blend. This wine would be bought by the restaurants in France because it will be ready to drink sooner. He also believed that Americans made too much of the idea of “vintage”.
With lunch we had the 1990 Domaine de Chevalier which was a perfect match with the main course. Some of the members of the Wine Media Guild were kind enough to bring older bottles of Domaine de Chevalier. I was able to taste the 1985 and the 1982 which proved to me the wines can age. The 1979 seemed a bit vegetative but I only had a small taste.
The main difference in the wines was that the Domaine de Chevalier seemed more fruit forward with softer tannins. The Haut-Bailly seemed to be less forward, tighter and more tannic. When I mentioned this to Mr. Vialard he said he agreed, and then if I understood him correctly, he said that 15 years ago it would have been the reverse!
There was also a discussion by the speakers dealing with the Bordeaux market in this country. The biggest importer of Bordeaux in the United States has stopped bringing in the wine. They are trying to get rid of their inventory by “dumping” the wine (selling it for less). The speakers agreed that this was a problem but no one seemed to know if this would lower the price of Bordeaux to the consumer.