Domaine de Chevalier retrospective highlights strength of white Bordeaux

White wines merit more attention, says Olivier Bernand, owner of celebrated Graves estate Domaine de Chevalier

Words by Panos Kakaviatos

Photography by César Rovaina

Domaine de Chevalier wines

Private wine buyers, merchants and bloggers at the French embassy in Washington D.C. last month admired the age-worthiness of Bordeaux whites during a 50-year retrospective dinner of Domaine de Chevalier, a celebrated estate from Bordeaux’s Graves region.

Although only about 11% of Bordeaux wine produce is white, Domaine de Chevalier is one of the rare Bordeaux estates to have been ranked “classified growth” (cru classé) for both red and white wines in the prized appellation of Pessac-Léognan.

Estate owner Olivier Bernard told diners of his plan to write a book on white wines because “much has been written already about reds, and whites merit more attention”.

The book, which he expects to publish in 2021 in both English and French, will outline the importance of vintage for great white wines, and how warmer vintages often yield whites to be enjoyed younger, as well as covering grapes outside of Bordeaux, such as Viognier, Chardonnay and Riesling, with added sections on food and wine pairings.

Bernard also plans to stress that only age-worthy whites can be considered ‘great’: “As they age, they will develop a fourth or even fifth dimension that is missing when they are young”.


White Bordeaux
Olivier Bernard
Olivier Bernard

Such a dimension was detected when dinner participants savoured the 1980 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc from magnum.

“Witchcraft must have made it so fresh and vibrant,” remarked sommelier Maria Denton. Tim Hong, representative for nationwide importer/retailer Total Wine, remarked simply: “Insanely fresh”.

The Domaine de Chevalier vineyard lies in an isolated, single block, whose surrounding forest creates a cooler microclimate – particularly advantageous in our global warming era. The main grape in the blend, Sauvignon Blanc, has more acidity than Semillon.

“In the past, we needed more Semillon to add creamy texture as the Sauvignon was too pronounced,” Bernard said. “But with global warming, we will need less Semillon, which on gravely soil can get a bit too warm, like Merlot on gravely soil.”

Diners also enjoyed Domaine de Chevalier’s long lasting Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated reds, as evidenced by the 1970 – a wine voted by many as one of the evening’s best.

Unlike centuries-old estates in the Médoc to the north, Domaine de Chevalier dates back to only the second half of the 19th century, as forest took up most of the western part of Bordeaux’s Graves region. Its official appellation since 1987 has been Pessac-Léognan, established as a separate entity in the northern Graves.

Only three families have managed the estate since 1865, including Bernard, who purchased it in 1983. Since then, he has gradually expanded the vineyard from 18ha to over 60.