An Evening with Pierre Lurton of Château Cheval Blanc and Château d’Yquem

One of the many benefits of good wine is that it brings good people together. Another bonus is that it’s both an intellectual and a sensory exploration that knows no bounds. All of this was evident at The Reserve one clear, beautiful spring night in April. That’s when the esteemed General Manager of Château Cheval Blanc and Château d’Yquem, Pierre Lurton, joined us for dinner and shared seven of his legendary Bordeaux wines in the elegant comfort of our hospitality barn.

One of the many benefits of good wine is that it brings good people together. Another bonus is that it’s both an intellectual and a sensory exploration that knows no bounds. All of this was evident at The Reserve one clear, beautiful spring night in April. That’s when the esteemed General Manager of Château Cheval Blanc and Château d’Yquem, Pierre Lurton, joined us for dinner and shared seven of his legendary Bordeaux wines in the elegant comfort of our hospitality barn.
 
Pierre joined us at The Reserve from Saint-Emillion by way of South Africa to enchant us for the evening. And enchant he did. All of his French charm, humor and wine expertise made for a gregarious evening that was laid back and luxurious at the same time. 
 
Walking up to The Reserve, guests passed the prolific garden, which was brimming with lettuces and artichokes ripe for the picking. It was a picture perfect evening with the evening light lingering as Pierre and Joe Marchant of the Bordeaux Index played a casual round of pre-party bocce while the night’s festivities started to come together. Bocce quickly gave way to meet-and-greets on the patio as Members mingled with each other and Pierre over Krug and passed bites of chicken satay with plum chutney, goat cheese and walnut tartlets and caviar with crème fraîche served atop a cross-cut potato chip. 
 
It was a very limited group of 30 lucky guests. “Lucky” because the guest list had to be determined by a lottery due to the rarity of the wines. Even persuading Pierre’s team to extend the list to 30 was an accomplishment. Normally, Pierre attends extremely small Cheval Blanc dinners around the globe—from London to Hong Kong—and usually they’re family-hosted and no more than 15 guests.
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Still, this dinner of 30 was intimate by many standards. It goes without saying that the opportunity to enjoy legendary Bordeaux wines from one of the world’s finest estates is one not to pass up. Don Weaver the Estate Director of Harlan Estate along with Bill and Deborah Harlan started the chain of events that culminated in this night. After all, Pierre doesn’t offer up a jeroboam of Château d’Yquem or multiple magnums of ‘04 and ‘83 Château Cheval Blanc to just anybody. 
 
It’s clear that these are some spectacular estates offering elegant, aspirational wines. In 2014, Cheval Blanc was one of only four wineries in Saint-Emillion to receive the highest rank of Premier Grand Cru Classé A. According to Pierre, these wines derive much of their uniqueness from grape variety. While the terroir is similar to neighbors like Château Pétrus in Pomerol, and has a characteristic gravelly soil, it’s the unusual combination of cabernet franc and merlot that sets Cheval Blanc apart. It’s known to be a silky, lean wine with easy tannins and a long finish.
 
Similarly, Château d’Yquem is classified in its own category as Premier Cru Superieur. In other words, this wine is unparalleled. It’s been a vineyard for roughly three centuries in Sauternes and is characteristically complex. Most notably, Château d’Yquem is highly susceptible to rot which makes it so delicious. There’s nice acidity to balance the sweetness and lend ageability as well. These qualities make it more than a dessert wine. According to Pierre, it makes a standout pairing with poultry, sweetbreads and compté cheese. He also points out that the “exotic nose has a hint of orange peel which makes it good with Crepe Suzette.” 
 
We sat promptly at 7:45 pm as the sun was just starting to set, and the sky was turning to a dusty blue. Two long tables were set with glassware galore taking up the majority of the tabletop real estate. Specifically, there were seven wineglasses for each wine at each of the 30 place settings. Finally, the golden fire in the big fireplace lent even more intimacy to the already cozy evening. 
 
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Managing Director Philip Norfleet greeted all of the guests and introduced Pierre. Pierre told stories of how he got his job at Cheval Blanc at the young age of 23 and how since all of his family is in the wine business in Bordeaux they asked him if he could take his mother’s name. He said, “yes, but I think it might be a problem for you because my mother’s maiden name is Lafitte.” He did point out his family has two “t’s” and not just one like Château Lafite Rothschild. He also gave behind-the-scenes accounts of each vintage and of current happenings around the Château—like the new, very modern-looking cellar by architect Christian de Portzamparc, which is contemporary on the outside, but on the inside it carries on the timeless prestige of Cheval Blanc. He also explained the irony of how he fights rot at one place (Cheval Blanc) and desperately needs it in the other (Château d’Yquem).
 
The five-course meal by Estate Chef Alejandro Ayala started with an heirloom beet salad paired with The Napa Valley Reserve White Wine 2014. Next, the rich and crispy duck confit atop lentils went especially well with the 2006 and the 2005 Cheval Blanc—with its long finish and light touch of tannin complementing the richness of the duck. Following that was the filet of beef with The Reserve garden vegetables and cabernet jus alongside the 2004 en magnum which had subtle “cashmere tannins” and a hint of fennel, as well as the earthier 2003. The cheese course was Ossau-Iraty sheep milk cheese with marcona almonds and crostini paired with the 1998 and the 1983 en magnum—both were major crowd pleasers. The ’98 with a raspberry nose, stark freshness and famous long finish, and the ’83 vintage’s chocolate and spice.
 
Last but definitely not least—and likely the favorite of the entire night—was the 2005 Château d’Yquem en jeroboam served with a selection of mignardises. The pure, clean and fresh Sauternes was so complex that it could stand alone without any pairing—and be the wine and the food course all at once. The freshness and acidity with caramel notes to rival the best flan make it an extremely adaptable wine. 
 
As Pierre notes, “it’s also good in the middle of the night with a cigar.” Something he probably knows from experience.