Christie’s wine specialist Tim Triptree discusses changes in Bordeaux wine-making over the last 60 years and looks at a ‘legendary’ wine offered in our Hong Kong Spring sales
How much has changed in Bordeaux over the last 60 years?
Tim Triptree: ‘Many things have changed in Bordeaux over the last 60 years, from advances in viticulture to technological leaps in winemaking, climate change and, of course, the wines have increased in price!
‘The vintage of 1947 came just after the war and it was sandwiched between the great vintages in 1945 and 1949 — it is amazing to think that such superlative wines were produced in the hardships of the post-war years. 1947 was a very hot year and illustrates one wine-making advance, temperature-control — in 1947 Cheval Blanc had to use ice to cool the cellars and ensure the fermentations did not become too hot.
‘Today, of course, the winery is equipped with the latest technology, with temperature-controlled vats to make the fermentations a much less fraught experience for the wine-makers.’
Has technological advancement brought positive changes to the wines over this period?
TT: ‘The technological advances have meant that the wines have improved, especially in difficult vintages, such as 2013. In the past this would have been a write-off, however improved techniques in the vineyards and cellars enabled production of attractive, early-drinking wines.
‘Viticultural changes include different trellising, shoot-thinning, de-leafing, green harvesting and stricter selection of grapes. In the winery yeasts, cold soaks, temperature-control, extraction techniques, barrel ageing and filtration are some of the aspects that have been subjected to change.’
What makes the Cheval Blanc 1947 so unique?
TT: ‘Cheval Blanc 1947 is a legendary wine. As Michael Broadbent MW summarised, Cheval Blanc 1947 was “not only the most famous ’47 but, at its best, one of the greatest Bordeaux of all time”.
‘It was hot and dry in 1947 and the harvest began on 15 September, which was a full 10 days before the usual start date. The grapes were extremely ripe and concentrated and the wine exhibits this sweet core of ripe black and red fruits which balances perfectly the 14.4 per cent alcohol and 3g/l of residual sugar. Tasters often compare the wine to a vintage port, such is the richness, concentration and ripeness of the fruit.
‘This is a sumptuous wine and the case we are offering in the sale has been reconditioned at the Château.’
What tips can you offer to those who are passionate about collecting vintage wine?
TT: ‘Firstly, taste widely and decide what your drinking preferences are. Secondly, decide which wines and regions to focus on collecting. Thirdly, browse auction catalogues and create a “My interests” on christies.com, which will alert you to specific wines coming up for sale. Number four is to make sure you store your wines in optimum temperature and humidity-controlled conditions. Finally, monitor your wine collection, because different wines/vintages do reach their peak at varying rates and some will need to be drunk sooner rather than later.’