Whether by design or by pure chance, there are in the world exceptional places. Cheval Blanc is one of these. Combining a unique soil with a symbiotic mix of grape varieties, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, Cheval Blanc produces a wine, which has the rare quality of being good at any age. It is without doubt one of the most consistent wines in the world. Cheval Blanc's unique identity is due to its varied soils, early-ripening microclimate, the percentage of Cabernet Franc in the vineyard, and the close proximity of the finest wines of Pomerol.
Château Cheval Blanc has the rare ability to be good at whatever age. It is enjoyable young or as much as a century old in certain vintages. However, a great wine only reveals its full potential and all its subtle nuances after several years in bottle. It takes time to show its true colours and before reaching its peak. Every vintage of Cheval Blanc is made according to the traditional philosophy that great wine needs to age.
It should nevertheless be said that wines with ageing potential go through several periods, and that each one has its own type of attractiveness. This is all part of Château Cheval Blanc's fascinating complexity. Three different bottles of Cheval Blanc from the same vintage drunk at five, twenty, and forty years of age will each show a different facet of the same wine, variations on the same lovely theme. A bottle of fine wine meant to age is like a library of flavours that develop throughout its existence.
Wine is a "cultural" beverage that is very much alive and develops countless nuances over time. That is why this long waiting period needs to be respected. It is crucial to the wine's evolution, so that it can deliver its very best.
2011 Cheval Blanc – From 52% Cabernet Franc and 48% Merlot, the wine will be aged in 100% new oak. The wine reached 13% alcohol and represents 65% of the harvest. This is a fresh, refined, elegant style of Cheval Blanc that offers soft, ripe, pure, fresh black and white cherries, floral, spice, truffle, smoke and earthy aromas along with supple textures. While refined and polished, 2011 Cheval Blanc lacks the depth of 2009 and 2010.
The vegetation period lasting from 1st April to 3rd September was warm and dry, in particular in April, May and June. On 26 and 27 June for example, temperatures reached 37.8°C. This very hot, sunny weather caused a few incidents of heat damage. July was cool, with average rainfall, while August was quite hot with higher than average rainfall (78mm against the norm of 64mm). The exceptionally hot, dry September allowed us to pick the grapes in optimum conditions. The budburst came fairly early: 26 March for the Merlot and 29 March for the Cabernet Franc. Flowering occurred extremely early, on 12 May for the Merlot and 17 May for the Cabernet Franc, due to the very high temperatures in April andMay.Mid-veraison was observed on 17 July for the Merlot and 24 July for the Cabernet Franc. This was the earliest ever recorded at Cheval Blanc.
The cool month of July and the rainy August resulted in a fairly slow, gradual ripening process. So while the harvesting dates were quite early they were less so than in 1997 and 2003. The excellent weather conditions in September allowed the grapes to attain optimum ripeness on each plot.We were thus able to stagger the harvesting over more than three weeks, from 6 to 28 September. The early drought caused a halt in the growth of the earliest branches on the gravel plots between end June and mid-July. On the clay soils growth stopped at the end of July. The rainy month of August maintained growth on the sandy soils through to mid-September. The pressure of vine disease such as mildew was extremely low until July, picking up slightly at the end of the season due to the August rainfall. The vines opened out generously and most of the plots required thinning. The final yield was slightly higher than the ten-year average.
The weight of the ripe grapes was slightly below average. This is a concentration factor which varies greatly from one soil type to the next. Sugar contents at ripeness were lower than the average over the period 2004-2011 for the Merlot. An almost unheard-of event occurred: the Cabernet Franc grapes had higher sugar content at ripeness than the Merlot. The Cabernet Franc is a laterripening variety than the Merlot and this year was able to make the most of the highly favourable conditions in September. Ph levels were relatively low in the Merlot and higher in the Cabernet Franc. Malic acid content was low in both varieties, indicating very good ripeness. On the gravel and clay soils, the grapes were richer in phenolic compounds than the average over the period 2004-2011, which is logical given the low weight of the grapes. On the sandy soils the values were close to the long-term average.
But we were below the record values of 2010. Several factors contributed to the quality of the 2011 vintage. The hot weather led to early yet complete ripening of the grapes. The water stress brought early growth to a halt and limited the size of the grapes on soils with low or medium water reserves (gravel and clay). The August rains penalised the vintage’s potential slightly, particularly on the sandy soils where the vines were not yet in a situation of water stress. The later-ripening Cabernet Franc suffered less in August and was able to reach its full potential in the beautiful September weather. The exceptional event was the fact that the Cabernet Franc grapes were sweeter, less acidic and had lesstotal phenolic compounds than the Merlot.
2011 Le Petit Cheval – With a large portion of Merlot at 75% and 25% Cabernet Franc, the wine opens to truffle, caramel and black cherry. Medium-bodied, with some dryness in the finish, the wine ends with black raspberry sensations.