This was a spectacular night of fabulous food at La Toque
in Napa, California. Every course was right on target, and we had the joy of hosting Château Cheval Blanc’s administrator Pierre Lurton
for this night with Wine Advocate
subscribers. Well-known veteran chef Ken Frank
has had this restaurant for many years, although it has moved from Northern Napa Valley in Rutherford to the Westin Verasa Hotel in Napa. I have had chef Frank’s food before, and when he is on, the cuisine clearly rates much higher than the one star from Michelin that he’s received, fetching more like two or three stars, in my opinion. In any event, it was an exquisite meal, and it’s hard to pick a favorite course, as everything was executed perfectly and presented with impeccable service.
We started with some wonderful hors d’oeuvres, although I only had the chance to look at them, as I was too busy talking to guests, but I certainly know well the beautiful 2004 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs. This is a terrific 100% Chardonnay Champagne that is crisp, with notes of Wheat Thins, green apple skin, and wonderfully fresh, lively bubbles.
The first course of Waygu beef was served with the second wine of Cheval Blanc, which usually represents about 45% to 60% of their entire production. The year 2011 was a challenging vintage in Bordeaux that turned out a soft, easy-going 2011 Le Petit Cheval
with notes of forest floor, roasted herbs, mulberries and black cherries. It is fully mature and best drunk over the next 5-8 years. An absolutely brilliant wine, the 2010 Le Petit Cheval
would make you think the selection might possibly have been too severe! Gorgeous raspberry and black currant fruit intermixed with incense and forest floor jump from the glass of this medium to full-bodied, silky, round and opulent Le Petit Cheval. It should drink well for another 15-20 years. Again, the underrated 2008 Le Petit Cheval
displays surprising maturity (the vintage is on a fast evolutionary track), with loads of loamy soil notes intermixed with underbrush, black currants, incense and some floral notes. It is medium-bodied, ready to drink, delicious and complex.
The next course, which was a gorgeous squab dish cooked perfectly, included three truly great and powerful vintages of Château Cheval Blanc. It was tough to pick a favorite, although all three wines were at different points in their evolutionary journey. The 2005 Château Cheval Blanc is spectacular, with a dense purple color and a beautiful nose of incense, spring flowers, forest floor, black raspberry and black currant fruit. It is full-bodied and powerful, but just beginning to shed some tannin and expand and offer accessibility. It is approachable, but owners of it would still be best advised to hold onto it for another four to five years and drink it over the following 25 to 30+ years. The exotic 2009 is viscous, opulent, thick and juicy, with the vintage’s hallmark of extravagant fruit, loads of glycerin, a heady punch, and a full-bodied decadence on prominent display. All of Château Cheval Blanc’s terroir characteristics, from forest floor to spring flowers to red and black fruits are apparent in this generous wine that is hard to ignore. It still seems very young, but it is oh so thrilling and fun to drink. The statuesque, even majestic 2010 Château Cheval Blanc is one for the ages. It is more structured, masculine and backward than the 2009, but locked and loaded, with layers of concentrated fruit, power and a fabulous, long finish. It is a glorious wine to admire, but not yet ready to drink, and probably won’t be for another five to 10 years.
The next flight, served with a beautiful rack of veal, included vintages that were close to full maturity. The 2006 is somewhat of a forgotten vintage, coming on the heels of 2005, but the 2006 Château Cheval Blanc acquitted itself very well. Showing a promisingly youthful dark plum/ruby color, plenty of licorice, black raspberry and black currant fruit as well as hints of smoke and forest floor, it is medium to full-bodied, rich and, to me, representative of a sleeper of the vintage. Drink it over the next 20 to 25 years. The 2001 Château Cheval Blanc was pure silk—not the biggest wine, by any means—but elegant, with a velvety texture, medium body and beautiful fruit that has reached full maturity. Drink it over the next decade. Our special guest for the night was administrator Pierre Lurton, and one of his favorite vintages under his impeccable guidance at Cheval Blanc is the 1998, a wine that has gone from strength to strength. I rated it in the mid- to upper-90s early on, but it seems to have hit the magical three-digit perfection. It offers extraordinary, exuberant aromatics ranging from truffle to forest floor to floral notes intermixed with blackcurrant and black raspberry. It is an incredibly complex, full-bodied, opulent wine that seems to be in mid-adolescence and capable of lasting another 25 to 30 years. The 1998 was a spectacular vintage in Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, and to a lesser extent in Graves, and all three of those appellations eclipsed anything that was made in the Médoc.
We finished with a killer gnocchi with fresh white truffles from chef Frank, served with three fully mature vintages. The 1982 Château Cheval Blanc seems to be not only fully mature, but perhaps just beginning to head down ever so slightly. It is certainly going to last for another 25 years, but I believe this wine was at its peak five or so years ago. Of course, it represents a vintage that was a great one, but in the case of Château Cheval Blanc, the selection process was not nearly as draconian as it became over the last 15 or so years. This wine displays lots of garnet and bricking at the edge, plenty of cedar wood and underbrush, a touch of herbs, sweet cherries and black currants, and a round, juicy, full-bodied mouthfeel with just a touch of fading fruit and drying out in the finish. Drink it up. The 1975 Château Cheval Blanc, a controversial vintage of excessively tannic and hard wines, was much more approachable and successful in the Right Bank appellations of Pomerol, Saint-Émilion and Graves than it was in the Médoc. This vintage had that virile, muscular, masculine, tannic clout to it, but also had some sweet fruit, loads of herbs, incense, Asian spice, cedar wood and black currants. This is certainly a strong and very successful wine for this vintage, but it is probably best drunk over the next decade. From magnum, the 1959 Château Cheval Blanc was gorgeous—rich, full-bodied, complex, and displaying a hot vintage character of plenty of glycerin, slightly naked black currant fruit, a touch of roasted herbs and spice. It is full-bodied, rich and concentrated. These wines went magnificently with the fresh Piedmontese white truffles that were shaved very generously by the restaurant staff over our exquisite gnocchi.
All in all, this was a great night for Wine Advocate subscribers as well as me personally.