Wine Legend: Château Cheval Blanc 1947

Cheval Blanc 1947Wine Legend: Château Cheval Blanc 1947, St-Emilion, Bordeaux, France

Number of bottles produced: 110,000

Composition of blend: 50% Cabernet Franc, 50% Merlot

Yield (hl/ha): 37.4

Alcohol content: 14.4%

Release price: 15-50 ‘old’ francs

Average price today: £16,887 ex-tax (source: Wine-Searcher)

A legend because…

Experienced tasters often maintain that this is not only the finest Cheval Blanc of the 20th century but one of the finest clarets of that century. Yet it’s a wine that doesn’t conform to the model of fine Bordeaux: it is rich and Porty, high in alcohol and volatile acidity.

This weight and opulence may have been atypical of Cheval Blanc, but few tasters have been able to resist its lush texture and voluptuous flavours. Yet its success was in a sense freakish, as no modern winemaker would set out to live so dangerously as to produce a wine in this style.

It was also made against the odds. France was still recovering from the Second World War, the Nazis having plundered the country over four years of occupation. Cellars were bare, barrels were old and scarce, even finding fresh hoops to replace rusty ones was a challenge and even basics such as bottles, corks and labels were in short supply.

Grapes were still sent to the winery in baskets on ox-drawn wagons. And yet, despite this, as French wine writer Michel Dovaz remarked: ‘1947 Cheval Blanc defies the laws of modern oenology.’

Looking back

The present-day vineyards of Cheval Blanc once formed part of Figeac, but two substantial parcels were sold in the 1830s to the Ducasse family. A Ducasse daughter married Jean Laussac Fourcaud in 1852, and the family (their name evolved over the decades into Fourcaud-Laussac) owned and managed Cheval Blanc until its sale in 1998 (see below).

The wines were always respected but only began to fetch prices comparable to the Médoc first growths in the 1960s.

The people

In 1947 Cheval Blanc was in the hands of the Fourcaud-Laussac family that had owned the property since the early 19th century. It was managed at the time by Jacques Fourcaud-Laussac with Gaston Vassière as winemaker.

The family’s ownership would continue until 1998, when it was acquired by the present owners Bernard Arnault, CEO of luxury goods group LVMH, and Belgian tycoon Baron Albert Frère.

The vintage

The summer was exceptionally hot, with unblemished weather from early April to October. The harvest at Cheval Blanc began on 15 September – two weeks earlier than usual for the time – when temperatures were still above 35ºC. It continued until 4 October, all the while under a ‘torrid sun’ as Madame Fourcaud-Laussac wrote in her diary.

These hot conditions meant that Bordeaux wines, especially on the Right Bank, achieved atypically high natural sugar levels, resulting in opulent wines that in some cases lacked stability. The crop was also generous, far beyond the legal limits allowed in many appellations today.

The terroir

For a property with only 37 hectares of vines, the soils are diverse and perhaps more typical of Pomerol, which Cheval Blanc borders, than of St-Émilion. There are three soils types: gravel over clay (40%), deep gravel (40%), and sand over clay (20%).

The clay soils tend to give the highest sugars but can result in low acidity wines. Vines planted are 58% Cabernet Franc, 42% Merlot.

The wine

Although the hot weather had delivered grapes very high in sugar with some raisining, this was a mixed blessing in 1947, as most châteaux had difficulty controlling the fermentation. In an era before mechanised temperature control, the only method – practiced at Figeac as well as Cheval Blanc – was to cool the must by adding ice cubes to the vats.

No doubt this prevented a fermentation meltdown, but even with the addition of ice the final wine was (in an era when 11.5% or 12% were the norm) very high in alcohol. Moreover, the wine did not ferment to complete dryness, leaving around 3.5 grams per litre of residual sugar,…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/learn/wine-legend-chateau-cheval-blanc-1947-369917/