2023 Bordeaux En Primeur – Cheval Blanc & Le Petit Cheval

UNTIL MY COMPLETE 2023 BORDEAUX EN PRIMEUR REPORT IS PUBLISHED IN FULL, I WILL NOTE DOWN MY FAVOURITE EARLY-RELEASE WINES FOR YOUR PERUSAL

Cheval Blanc 2023

Château Cheval Blanc (Saint-Emilion)

52 Merlot, 46 Cabernet Franc, 2 Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% new oak (seven coopers, with a focus on medium toast, for 16-18 months)

I have been talking about the human interventions that made this vintage such a success for the best protagonists, and Cheval Blanc and Le Petit Cheval are perfect cases in point.  Floral ignition was simply stunning here, with every flower and every fruit exploding into life.  In June, the viti-teams had to fight hard – they sprayed 11 times to combat mildew, and in July, everything dried out, and three careful green harvests took place.  The term green harvest sounds somewhat brutal because the teams practised ‘cleaning’, ‘aerating’ and ‘taking weight out of bunches’ to balance the vines with precisely the correct crop load for each vine.  In some cases, they dropped one bunch in two to give every vine, including the vigorous young vines, a chance of being eligible for the Grand Vin!  It is always a joy to taste with Arnaud de Laforcade, Commercial & Financial Director at Cheval Blanc because he comes out with truly passionate one-liners that frame the wines perfectly.  “We love our young vines”, he said wistfully.  “If you left them in this vintage, they would make 70hl/ha, so we must harmonise the ripening.”   He explained that this critical pruning was delegated to subcontracted crews because the “home team” hates cutting off fruit because they are so inextricably linked to their vines.  This says a lot about the ethos at Cheval Blanc.  August’s sprinklings of rain, interspersed with sunny weather, particularly in the second half, meant that conditions were perfect.  This brought on complete ripeness, particularly in Cabernet Franc – the vital member of the team in both first and second wines.  They started picking on the 6th of September with the younger Merlot vines and then cherry-picked for one whole month, ending on the 3rd of October.  Even the ‘downpour’ in mid-September that was predicted to be a slightly worrying 60mm managed only 20mm, and like so many experienced crews, they ‘played the game’, and this prompted Cabernet Franc to hit a perfect picking window four days after this mini storm.  In fact, Arnaud described picking as “serene”.  It was a luxury to pick precisely what you wanted when you wanted, and the results are simply jaw-dropping.  While this famous château has been flying high the last couple of years in my notes and scores with stunning wines with different characters and dimensions, I think that 2023 Cheval Blanc has one of the most attractive perfumes I can remember.  It is like walking in the most extraordinary florist imaginable when the rare and exotic flowers have their stems trimmed, ready for display.  The mix of pungent florals and electrifying keen, green hints is captivating.  This is a thrillingly detailed wine, and I have not yet moved onto the palate.  It must be impressed on all comers that this is a medium-weight, high-tensile Cheval Blanc that derives its scale of flavour by summoning up beguiling intensity without any apparent weight.  It focuses its efforts firmly on a complex red spectrum of fruit, which goes against the grain of the three-dimensional red and black peacock tails found over the fence in Pomerol.  This is a devastating Cheval Blanc with operatic high and deeply resonant low notes, and at every step of the way, there is luxury perfectly offset by freshness.  It is one of a handful of wines in 2023 that could never have been so utterly dreamy without the timely interventions of humans.  In fact, it inspired the title of this entire report.  20+/20

Le Petit Cheval (second wine of Cheval Blanc)

50 Merlot, 50 Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s worth having a quick spin through my Cheval Blanc note before diving into this one because this wine enjoyed the same level of care and attention lavished on the Grand Vin.  I am on a one-man crusade to eliminate the word ‘Petit’ from some of the greatest estates in Bordeaux because a decent number of the so-called Petits Vins have outperformed countless other estates in their respective communes, so the name seems not to fit.   Accordingly, this is a much more adroit style of the ‘other wine’ at Cheval Blanc in 2023, and it makes a little more noise than normal, too.  I feel it is sounding its own trumpet, so everyone knows it is back after a year off (no LPC was made in 2022).  The tannin structure is off the scale and certainly far grander than I can remember for this label.  As you might imagine, when the harvest was near perfect, and serenity was the name of the game, putting this wine and its parent together on the bench was a doddle. And as LPC must always live up to the build quality of the Grand Vin, only with a more medium-term drinking window in mind, this is a stellar interpretation of this label.  With beautiful control, augmented refinement, and oodles of class, this is, not surprisingly, a standout second wine in 2023.  18+/20

 MATTHEW JUKES SCORE CONVERSION CHART

As a wine taster and writer, I prefer you to read my words rather than focus on my scores.  This is why I rarely score wines unless I write an extensive report like this one.  I believe that scores taken from the context of tasting notes are essentially meaningless.  I describe my featured wines fully so you can imagine the aroma, shape and flavour.  Scores don’t help with this.  You will know that several different scoring methods are used in the global wine trade.  Most of my wine-writing colleagues have been tempted to the dark side, using the 100-point rating system.  A few, usually older types, cling to the venerable five-star rating.

As you know, I favour the 20-point score.  It’s how I was taught and dovetails nicely with how I judge wines.  For those unfamiliar with the 20-point scoring system, here is a table that translates it into various other formats.

20-point score100-point scoremedal5 star
20100perfect gold5
19.598/99gold5
1996/97gold5
18.595gold4
1893/94high silver4
17.591/92silver4
1789/90silver3
16.588high bronze3
1686/87bronze2
15.585bronze2
1583/84no medal1
14.581/82no medal1
1480no medal1