Illustration: Woman drinking wine
© Daniel Egnéus

The secrets of Cheval Blanc wine

  • TEXT MAX KÜNG
  • ILLUSTRATION DANIEL EGNÉUS

Talking about wine can be one of the most taxing social situations – even women founder occasionally

It is often said that women are generally superior to us men: They are more intelligent, better at expressing their emotions, better at driving, at managing money and at mental arithmetic. They are more empathetic and better at multitasking. They are also said to possess a much stronger sense of taste and smell. Compared to them, men are grunting beasts in the realm of sensory perception. We are as delicate and sensitive as creatures from the Pleistocene. One of my friends, an architect, adheres to this a way of thinking. Said friend does not just love constructing large buildings, but is also a great aficionado of Bordeaux wines, and as such possesses an excellently stocked wine cellar. He is utterly convinced of the superiority of women when it comes to describing wines. I knew this, and so boned up on some of the jargon before our visit. This way, I would be better able to express what I was going to be experiencing later. I memorized “privet hedge,” “beeswax” and “opulent” – all words you may want to use when talking about wine. I was going to plunge my nose into the glass to announce: “Ahhh, I’m getting gingerbread and dates. Incredibly masculine and fleshy, but with a hint of Buffalo Bill’s leather saddle straps.” This, although I was not entirely sure that Buffalo Bill had ever actually used a saddle.

At the architect’s house, two exclusive bottles, which were to accompany the main course, were waiting for us: two vintages from the Château Cheval Blanc winery. They had already been decanted and stood on a teak sideboard next to the two bottles we would be enjoying with our first course and dessert. When I heard “Cheval Blanc” I immediately thought of white wine, of course, but the wines were unmistakably dark red in color. I quickly disappeared into the bathroom and pulled out my smart phone to get some background information. “Cheval Blanc wines are considered to be among the most exotic, but at the same time most profoundly archetypal of Bordeaux wines. They are elegant and reticent while boasting all the characteristics of an excellent red wine, as well as great length and finish, tannins and texture. They are well-rounded, with fruity nuances.” I read the passage once, twice, three times, and memorized it as best I could. Alas, I also saw that Cheval Blanc rarely sells for less than 500 euros a bottle. Beads of sweat started forming on my forehead.

 

On the drive home, I knew I would never be invited back to sample the architect’s collection of Bordeaux wines

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  We had the first course. The conversation was good-humored; it was a jovial evening. That is, until we got to the first bottle of Cheval Blanc. The ornate writing on the label made me feel dizzy. Everyone praised the wine, and I said: “It is elegant and reticent while boasting all the characteristics of an excellent red wine…” Everybody nodded and we proceeded to the second bottle. Our host poured the wine and and then turned to my wife: “What do you think? How does the 1982 vintage compare to the 1990?” I produced a series of little coughs to drown out the noise that seemed to emanate from her, a sound like the rattling of a faulty computer hard drive. She reflected, took another sip and closed her eyes. She moved the liquid around in her mouth as though it were mouthwash. Indeed, it sounded like a washing machine starting a soak cycle. Our host looked at her with curiosity, as people appeared increasingly eager to hear what my wife was going to say. She swallowed, started to say something, but then stopped for a moment, before lifting the wineglass once more. She held it at a slight angle, closed one eye and peered into the glass like a clairvoyant looking into a crystal ball. Finally, sounding more like she was asking a question, she said: “Erm… It is… errrr… less acidic….?” On the drive home, I knew I would never be invited back to sample the architect’s collection of Bordeaux wines.

There is a theory that says women do not actually have a superior sense of smell and taste at all, but are simply better at verbalizing what they taste and smell. Words come more easily to them. I think this theory is totally false, and feel I know what I am talking about.