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The most extravagant way to celebrate your 41st birthday…

by Giles Cooper (Spain & New World Buyer)

Quite simply one of the most ridiculous vinous nights of my life. A generous host, an excellent chef, and an astonishing collection of Cheval Blanc and Chateau d’Yquem. With the General Manager of these two elite properties, Pierre Lurton, also in attendance, we were surely set for an amazing evening... after all, it was my birthday…  And so it transpired. The bottles were in very satisfactory condition, labels, ullages and corks exactly as they should be for the era. None of the wines were decanted and all were opened around 2 hours before the dinner.

Without further ado, here’s the breakdown.


D’Yquem 1989 en magnum

Already showing a pleasing amber glow, this was the youngest of our Yquems by some distance and at the tender age of 30 it was starting to show a little wild honey and earthy complexity but was still refreshingly driven by acidity. With breadth and focus, it was the perfect aperitif. 96pts

First flight:

Cheval Blanc 1983

A generous vintage, this was completely open for business and showing the joyous, bubbly, gregarious side of Cheval. Soft tannins, juicy fruit, albeit the finish was a little shorter than some of the more prime examples which were to come. For some producers 83 was superior to 82. Would this be the case for Cheval? 94pts

Cheval Blanc 1982

No, it wouldn’t. This is a triumphant wine, still young, showing the signature savoury earthiness of Cheval but with pure, intense blackcurrant and raspberry fruit. What is remarkable here is the power of the tannins and singular focus of the structure. It’s gorgeous but it has years ahead and almost seemed to move in reverse in the glass, becoming more terse and strict with air. The best is yet to come. 97pts

Second flight:

D’Yquem 1955

Served with pan fried foie gras this was a sumptuous pair of wines to explore. First the ’55, a weighty, cough-candy and butterscotch powered number with a supple, rich texture and a line of fine freshness. There’s so much to enjoy here: it’s generous and yet remains an intellectual exercise with hints of wet gravel and wool. Great finish too, with real drive. 95pts

D’Yquem 1921

The greatest sweet wine ever made, apparently. Always hard to go into a wine like this without huge expectations. Are you tasting the wine or its reputation? Who knows. All I know is that it will be a while before I toast my birthday with anything better… massive, richly fruited nose with roasted nuts, furniture polish, caramel, toffee apple, butter pastry and just about everything else under the sun. Dried fruit, tropical fruit. The palate is so remarkably precise and powerful, richly textured but still fresh, and with amazing tension given its almost meaty density. The finish just goes on and on. Superb. 99pts

Third flight:

Cheval Blanc 1990

Another amazingly young wine, the 1990 has a singular sense of poise and focus which comes from a very particular balance between plush, soft fruit and surprisingly strict tannins and acidity. The structure is truly something to behold with absolute precision which allows all the incredible fruit and minerality to sing through without any fear of becoming too opulent or blousy. This is a majestic 1990 which will make old bones. What a wine. 98+pts

Cheval Blanc 1975

Sadly corked…

Fourth flight:

Cheval Blanc 1959

The most amazing thing about this dinner was the opportunity to see a spread of wines covering over 60 years, with the youngest being almost 30 years old. It was clear right from the off that the 1959 was in the best spot for drinking right now – it was simply, utterly magnificent. In terms of balance, purity, expression of place, maturity… just every piston was firing at full power. You can feel the presence of the Merlot and its clay soils through the density, power and clarity of the red fruit; equally you can feel the gravelly, mineral, savoury character of the Cabernet Franc working in harmony with it. Anyone holding the 1990 should be waiting a while to open it. It has the chance to reach this level. If I close my eyes now I can still taste it. 99+pts

Cheval Blanc 1945

M. Lurton explained that there is quite some variation with the ‘45s. Many share the same high-toned volatility as the famous ’47 but without the fat, porty richness to balance it out. This, however, was one of the better bottles. It’s certainly mature and fading with a dried fig and raisiny character allied to a herbal, old leather couch scent, with hints of wood and polish. But you know what: I don’t care. This isn’t about what the wine tastes like. It’s a testament to the strength and determination of a war-torn country, made in a time when there were hardly any workers, hardly any glass, hardly any cork, hardly any chemicals for vine treatment… simply it’s a wine that shouldn’t exist. So no score here. Seems disrespectful.

Cheval Blanc 1928

Gee whizz. This is a true Grande Dame of a wine, fading into mineral obscurity but with a rich glimmer of ripeness and power still in its fine core. You have to search for it but it’s certainly there, an almost chewily dense little nugget of energetic red fruit right on the centre of the palate. It’s lively, zippy and bright within this little pocket of focus. It’s definitely seen better days but its class, elegance and breeding are undeniable. It holds the purity of Cheval character that it was born with even though it is only at 25% volume. A wine I’ll never get to drink again (like several of these I expect!) and so I will savour it just for that reason. 95pts

Fifth flight:

D’Yquem 1967

This is the epitome of Yquem, says M. Lurton. I can see why. It’s just perfectly balanced, the tangy marmalade characters in total harmony with the butterscotch sweetness, the syrupy apricot flavours ably supported by a limey zip. And underneath it all there is a chalky, wet stone and oyster shell dryness that stops it from getting OTT. It’s so intense but so nimble. Just a total, utter delight. 98+pts

D’Yquem 1936

This was a little corky at the start and then the effect seemed to fade… but then it came back. Certainly not a perfect bottle. Still, there was more than enough of the ’67 so happy days.

So what can you say. Short of the 1947 it’s hard to see how this line up could be much improved upon. Happy birthday to me.

Enormous thanks again to our fabulous host TN and to Pierre Lurton.

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