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Riding the White Horse (with a burger in hand)

2010 September 8

This past weekend offered a rare opportunity to taste a vertical of one of the two class A Premier Grande Cru producers from St. Émilion: Château Cheval Blanc. There were, in fact, 34 bottles from 22 vintages including a 6 liter bottle of the 1988 vintage. According to Nicole Kosta, one of the sexy sommeliers in attendance that evening, and Aaron Pott, winemaker and host, the idea came from the movie, Sideways.

Sexy Sommeliers, Deanna & Nicole

Paul Giamatti’s character, Miles, was saving a prized bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc to celebrate his 10th wedding anniversary, even though he was divorced. However, during his friend’s wedding, he is introduced to his wife’s new husband and finds out she is pregnant. Realizing he will never reunite with his former wife, Miles takes the bottle to an In-n-Out restaurant and, alone, drinks it from a styrofoam cup. Sadly, no one brought a bottle of 1961 to re-enact that scene, but Aaron provided the 6 liter 1988, a hundred In-n-Out burgers and glass stemware to help celebrate the occasion properly.

“I thought it would be fun to have a less serious tasting of a serious wine,” said Aaron. “It is a wine that we can often afford a little of, but we don’t often get to taste it along with many other vintages.”

Cheval Blanc, 750ml bottles consumed
Vintage Bottles Vintage Bottles Vintage Bottles Vintage Bottles
1970 1 1980 1990 2000 1
1971 1981 1 1991 2001 1
1972 1982 1 1992 2002 1
1973 1983 2 1993 2 2003 1
1974 3 1984 1994 2004 3
1975 1 C 1985 1995 2 2005
1976 1 1986 1996 2 2006 1
1977 1987 2 1997 2007
1978 1 1988 8* 1998 1 2008
1979 1 1989 1999 4
Redexceptional year    Bold – better year   C – corked    *one 6 liter bottle

Many great vintages were represented that evening, however, those in-the-know sought these out and emptied them rather quickly. My favorites of the evening were the ’70, ’82, ’95, ’98, and ’03, not necessarily in that order. I didn’t get enough of a taste of the 2000 to be able to tell if I really liked it, but it must have been good since it disappeared in short order. I especially liked the ’82 and its two adjacent years. They still had some fruit qualities along with a touch of brett, but enough time in the bottle to smooth out the tannins. The 6-liter ’88 was initially very tight and not giving up much, but it improved as the night progressed. The ’03 will be great with another decade of age. It was disappointing that the bottle of ’75 was corked. Notably absent were the 1990 and 2005 vintages, but with an average price of about $1,000/750ml for a 2005, I’m not surprised. If I had one of those years, I probably wouldn’t bring one to a party knowing how quickly it would be consumed.

Tasting FrenzyAnd consume we did. At one point, it was pandemonium as people were searching for and grabbing bottles as quickly as they could. All this is not to say that no serious tasting was happening throughout the evening. People did use the dump bucket, but considering there was nearly 30 liters of Cheval Blanc alone, not to mention the other 20+ bottles of great wine opened, there was very little dumped out. Powell Yang from Spectrum Wine Auctions, Wine Bible author, Karen MacNeil, and winemaker, Roy Piper were all taking notes for future reference and yours truly was documenting the entire evening in photos. Of course, the guest list was a who’s-who of wine and winemaking, with Carole Meredith, grape geneticist and former professor at U.C. Davis; winemakers, Helen Keplinger and Stephen Lagier; winery owner, Delia Viader, and numerous sommeliers and industry people mingling at “Chateauneuf-du-Pott,” home of highly-regarded consulting winemaker, Aaron Pott and his wife, Claire.

Karen MacNeil, Carole Meredith, Steve Maxood

I need to thank Steve Maxood for having me as his date for the evening, providing the wine necessary for admission; Aaron and Claire for their hospitality and allowing us to sleep overnight, Deanna and Nicole, the sexy somms, for opening all those bottles with such aplomb; everyone who posed willingly for photographs, knowing they would end up on Flickr and Facebook; and Château Petrus for refusing to allow their bottle to be used in Sideways, thereby allowing Cheval Blanc to appear in the film and become the inspiration for this party.

Cheers and giddyup!

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