‘The 1947 Cheval Blanc is up there with the world’s most famous vintages,’ explains Chris Munro, Head of Wine at Christie’s London, as he inspects a complete case of the revered Bordeaux wine, offered in our 8 December Finest and Rarest Wines sale.
Although the vintage is exalted today, many feared 1947 would be a bad year. ‘July and August were blisteringly hot,’ Munro explains. ‘Grapes shrivelled on the vines and in September it got even hotter. Everyone thought the vintage would be an absolute disaster.’
Cheval was spared the damaging effects of the heat due to its favourable position, on a gravel bank to the right of the Dordogne, which was cooler than the surrounding vineyards. ‘Other growers clashed with fishmongers in an attempt to get ice from local merchants, to throw it in their vats to cool the wine,’ says Munro. Cheval left its wine, resulting in an intense, alcoholic vintage that has lasted for years.
The resulting vintage is 14.4 per cent alcohol, and has been described by Christie’s consultant Michael Broadbent as ‘port-like’ in its intensity. Celebrated critic Robert Parker commented: ‘The 1947 Cheval Blanc exhibits such a thick texture it could double as motor oil. The huge nose of fruitcake, chocolate, leather, coffee, and Asian spices is mind-boggling.’ Californian collector Bipin Desai, meanwhile, memorably described the vintage as ‘a cuddly wild boar’.
Munro sampled the wine at a private residence in Switzerland — the bottle came from stocks held at the Hôtel Beau Rivage in Geneva, which bought a barrel of the increasingly rare vintage from the Chateau. ‘When you taste Cheval Blanc you’re tasting a wine in a different sphere. It’s more than just a wine,’ comments the specialist. ‘Merlot grapes, which make up 55 per cent of the wine, give voluptuousness and silky tannins, while Cabernet Franc (45 per cent) lends strength and backbone.’
Today, Munro adds, the 1947 vintage is entering its prime, with complete cases becoming increasingly rare as the world’s stock is consumed. ‘Cases such as this only appear once every 10 years or so. Soon, that will be every 20 years.’ Such is the wine’s renown that it has even been immortalised in popular culture, appearing as the preferred drink of feared critic Anton Ego in the animated movie from 2007, Ratatouille.
In the winter of 2011 and early spring of 2012 the owner took this case back to Cheval where the bottles were relabelled and recorked. Cheval Blanc checked the quality of the wines, and topped up any bottles with its own stocks of 1947 where appropriate.
The last 1947 Cheval Blanc to appear at Christie’s — a single, six-litre bottle — established a new world record when it sold for £192,000 / $304,375 in 2010. When this case is offered in December, it is set to delight wine lovers eager to acquire a wine that, against all odds, has become one of the 20th century’s most celebrated.