The World of Fine Wine’s Simon Field MW is in Bordeaux for the 2021 vintage en primeur tastings. In the latest of his dispatches from the region, he reports from Domaine de Chevalier, where the Pessac-Léognan white wine is the star of the vintage.
“Le bon Dieu a bu beaucoup de Merlot en 2021,” says Rémi Edange, Olivier Bernard’s long-standing factotum at Domaine de Chevalier.
They met while in the military (military service I inferred) in 1982 and have been compadres ever since.
There is clearly the common thread of a pithy and aphoristic turn of phrase here, which makes tasting at the Domaine such a pleasure.
Nestled in the forest and with extensive single-story buildings which have grown organically over many years, this is a functional estate, less glamorous than, say, one of François I’s hunting lodges in the Loire, but with its own beauty and, needless to say, special microclimates.
Being virtually surrounded by trees fosters a particular environment which engenders not only marginally higher temperatures but also the de facto virtues of a complex ecosystem. Which is even more relevant as the Domaine is set for full organic accreditation for its white wines in 2023 and for its red in 2024.
The alleged travails of Bordeaux 2021
Continuing in the same vein and focusing on the alleged travails of 2021, Rémi advises that for the first time in many years they had to go and “disinter the sugar salesman” (the conceit works better in French), an arch but poignant reflection of the fact that chaptalization could not be avoided in 2021.
A source of great debate over the course of my stay, with those who “admit” to it generally implying, not in so many words of course, that those who do not are not being entirely truthful. God many well have drunk all the Merlot, but he was determined to make the Cabernet Sauvignon struggle too.
A valiant struggle it seems. The wine is restrained, classic, and deceptively powerful. Rémi compares it to a dominant musical chord and gestures with a flamboyant sweep of his hand how far its impact travels down the passages of olfactory appreciation. And beyond…
The red was saved by what he describes as the Paris-Moscow anticyclone (making it sound a little like a cycling competition, pre-war, of course). The high pressure engendered by this meteorological change was sufficient to ripen the grapes of both couleurs and to ensure a satisfactory dénouement to what had been a rather melodramatic entre-acte.
The whites fared considerably better in 2021 and indeed, for many the estate white wine is the epitome of Domaine de Chevalier.
The white skins abhor sunburn, says Rémi and while the skins of the Cabernet Sauvignon were as thick as the skin of a wild boar (his comparison) the whites were ripening beautifully.
The anti-cyclone conditions ultimately guided both to ripeness and banished earlier apocalyptical memories, seven spells of frost in April and 320mm (13 inches) of rain in May and, particularly, June, the worst offenders.
“And all when we were being very diligent in working towards organic conversion,” notes Olivier, somewhat wryly. Rémi describes the “rayonnement” of the white wine, something above and beyond the constituent elements, something very special.
He settles on the word “charisma,” which to me seems very appropriate for several reasons. Olivier’s two hunting dogs come to see me off and I drive into the forest, suitably uplifted.
2021 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc, Pessac-Léognan
(65% Sauvignon Blanc, 35% Merlot)
A subtle peachy aromatic builds slowly, the influence of the 35% of new wood evident but not overwhelming. Lemon pith, quince, and hints of white flowers, thyme even … the forest murmurs softly. A chalky substrata, a citric core with just the hint of creamy indulgence, and then a pleasingly lifted finish, still a little tense at the start of such a long journey.