01 December 2010

bordeaux below the radar: l'homme cheval at quedubon, 75019

At the close of the other night's rocking, many-magnum'd dinner at Quedubon with LA afro-indie band Fool's Gold, Gilles, who owns the restaurant, strode over and said he had someone to introduce me to. It turned out to be Dominique Léandre-Cheval, a natural Bordeaux vigneron whose playfully-branded Côtes de Blaye wines I recognized from great natural wine shops all over town.

(The wines are ascribed simultanously to Dominique Léandre Cheval, to Château Le Queyroux, to "DLC" - a pun on the famed Burgundy estate - and to L'Homme Cheval, the French for "centaur," which jeu de mots Dominique explains is in fact the etymological root of his family name.)

He happened to have three of his estate's wines open and available to taste, one of which I suspect won him the beginnings of an enthusiastic cult audience in Los Angeles.

That was his most extreme cuvée, entitled 100%, made from 100% pre-phyloxera Petit Verdot.

It was a pretty experiential wine, to put it lightly. Almost painfully rich, with 12g of residual sugar, it was porty,   mouth-blackening stuff, ferociously tannic, evoking baking chocolate, jam reductions, and tar. He asked me if I liked it and I asked him if he'd heard this Flaming Lips song:

A lot of the California contingent that night really dug the 2009 100%, a fact that, considering the weight of your average California wine these days, should surprise nobody. (The difference being that it takes a stunt wine like the 100%, which runs 65eu for a 500ml bottle at Quedubon, to match the gargantuan meal-flattening intensity of your average Sonoma Zinfandel.)

I preferred his more traditional 50% Merlot - 50% Cabernet blends, particularly the fresher, unoaked version. I couldn't tell you which of the two bottles below contained said wine, because as part of an extremely idiosyncratic gesture against conventional regional branding, M. Léandre-Chevalier uses both bottles - including the red-herring Burgundy bottle - for both wines.*

I have to voice mild disagreement with the idea expressed on his website - "La découverte du vin se fait sans influence de la forme de la bouteille ni de la situation géographique" - which insists we ought to discover wines blindly, without any foreknowledge of their origin. That borders on a kind of pure beverage aestheticism, often found in mass-retailers, that I believe does sort of a disservice to the cultural framework of a wine. You could call it the New Criticism of wine, with all the same pitfalls as its outmoded literary counterpart.

The more traditional L'Homme Cheval / Châteaux Le Queyroux wines themselves are a fine argument for the irrepressible relevance of regional information - they present so much of it, regardless of what bottle they're in. The wines are pure-fruited and harmonious, with foresty tones, and that classic savory matte-finish on the palate I associate with honest Bordeaux.

It's just that, as we lamented while tasting his wines, due to the structure of the regional industry, there just isn't a lot of natural Bordeaux around, which situation risks habituating consumers to the chemically manufactured supermarket stuff. This would seem to me all the more reason to wave the flag in the classic bottle for the classic style - but if Léandre-Cheval is more interested in breaking new ground, more power to him. It seems to be working so far.

*I remain unsure, in the end, whether this intentionally vexing, shell-game style of wine marketing constitutes an argument for or against the traditional commercialized oversimplification (grand vin, second vin) of the Bordeaux industry. See here for an amusing diagram that doesn't really clear anything up.

22, rue Plateau
75019 PARIS
Metro: Buttes Chaumont
Tel: 01 42 38 18 65

Château Le Queyroux / Dominique Léandre-Chevalier / l'Homme Cheval
6 lieu dit Coulon
33390 Anglade
Tel: 05 57 64 46 54

Related Links:

My first or second impression of Quedubon (this blog's first post!)
Riesling and cod ceviche at Quedubon

A profile of Dominique Léandre-Chevalier @ LesVinsdAuteurs
A recent Château Le Queyroux tasting @ Paperblog
Eric Asimov on the more "soulful" side of Bordeaux @ NYTimes Dining & Wine


  1. like your article about this recently on blogs very present winemaker and his culty wines very much: like in many of your contributions here, it seems to me to have the right balance of personal taste, information and further leading food for thought... thanks for that:-)!

  2. thank you, iris! comments mean infinitely more when they come from excellent web-savvy winemakers like yourself. it reassures me i'm not getting everything all wrong, for one thing.