John Hawkesby

John Hawkesby is a wine writer for Canvas Magazine.

Wine: Dreams of an intense superstar

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The beautiful St Emilion is home to many exquisite reds. Photo / Thinkstock
The beautiful St Emilion is home to many exquisite reds. Photo / Thinkstock

Cheval Blanc, the French red from St Emilion, continues to be my no-budget dessert island wine. Alas, price prohibits it becoming my house wine and, on the rare occasion I get to have a glass, I'm instantly transported to wherever it is the taste sensation of a lifetime takes you. A blend of cabernet franc and merlot (usually around 50/50), it offers elegance, intensity and concentration without the plodding heaviness and grit often associated with Bordeaux wines.

The 1921 and 1947 vintages are still talked about in hushed tones but unfortunately our paths have never crossed. However, despite its relative youth, the 2000 vintage has been exalted by some and, yes, we have been introduced.

It was pure, seamless, refined and fragrant and, if it could speak, its eloquence would be overwhelming.

Cheval Blanc, although not included in the top five Bordeaux first growths, can easily sit alongside them and, in a good year, elbow them all off the shelf.

Situated in beautiful St Emilion, the vineyards are not too far from that other supernova, Chateau Petrus.

Average production is around 8000 cases, so it's not exactly swamping the global market. I have seen some vintages on the wine lists of top Auckland restaurants, where prices vary from $900 to $1400.

I suspect they may well sit on the wine lists for a considerable time and, although some bottle age is a good thing, Cheval Blanc does not normally have the longevity of other top French red wines.

As you would expect, Chateau Cheval Blanc appears in Neil Beckett's 1001 Wines You Must Try Before You Die. International writer and master of wine Clive Coates describes it as "the only great wine in the world made predominantly from cabernet franc".

Cabernet franc shares a lot of characteristics with the better known cabernet sauvignon but is usually lighter in colour and tannins, tends to be medium-bodied with strong herbaceous fragrances and more pronounced fruit flavours.

In New Zealand about a dozen producers offer cabernet franc as a single varietal or blended with merlot or malbec. Of particular note are those from Kidnapper Cliffs, Crossroads, Clearview, Pyramid Valley, Sileni and Jurassic Ridge.

Cheval Blanc may well be out of the reach of most of us - but one can dream.

Recommended

2010 Alluviale, $33
A blend similar to St Emilion red wine Cheval Blanc, made from Hawkes Bay Gimblett Gravels grapes. Merlot and cabernet franc combine beautifully to produce a complex, lingering, soft, savoury wine with an array of lovely, intense flavours.

2012 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, $35
Recently released and still New Zealand's most recognised brand and varietal, you can expect the usual bright, breezy and zesty swagger with loads of intense flavours. This is great summer drinking.

- NZ Herald

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