Head sommelier at Le Bristol Paris, Bernard Neveu takes us behind the scenes at Le Bristol Paris and Epicure, the establishment’s Michelin three-starred restaurant, where he presides over an outstanding selection of wines.
An exceptional moment during which he reveals his passion for wine and the journeys and emotions that inspire him . . .
My family was not in the wine trade but I have long been in the restaurant business. I studied hospitality management and was fortunate enough to have an excellent professor. But more than anything else, I was an avid reader. It was in books that I first discovered a passion for wine, a passion that would soon become all-consuming. We dream about great wines long before we taste them. One day, I saw a photograph in a book that resonated within me like a shockwave. The feeling remains vivid to this day. It was a picture of the château at Cos d’Estournel. I remember being stunned by its singular architecture. The architecture of the great châteaux have that power, a pull that draws you back into the past. Only then can you begin to grasp the nature of the different châteaux, the different terroirs and their different wines. It is a magnificent journey.
A few years later, I had the opportunity to visit Cos d’Estournel for the first time. I can still see myself at the wheel, driving along the road, and then heading up a hill, before seeing that first glimpse of Cos d’Estournel at a bend in the road. It was years later, but the sensation of being struck with awe, of being filled with delight, was just as strong the second time around. I can see why Michel Reybier fell in love with Cos d’Estournel: it is truly an incredible place.
The extraordinary architecture of Cos d’Estournel cannot but conjure notions of spectacular journeys to faraway places. It is the stuff of dreams, and the foundation on which the estate’s compelling image is built, something that its clients hold very dear. Of course, the quality and consistency of its wines are also essential. Cos d’Estournel is one of the gems of Saint-Estèphe.
The notion of journeys is evident, as is that breed of exoticism that is intrinsic to Cos d’Estournel but that is also part of a deliberate approach. Creating something new, or doing something differently, can be exotic in its own way. The fact that Cos d’Estournel, reputed the world over for its exceptional red wines, began crafting white wine, is yet another exotic delight. For me, Cos d’Estournel is synonymous with the notion of exotic journeys not only in its ability to deliver great wines but also in the unique and authentic experiences it constantly seeks to deliver.
It is the men and women of the estate who bring this authenticity to life. Upon a recent visit, they explained to me that I could spend an entire half-day with the team and taste seven or eight vintages. It is only upon experiencing the estate in this way that you can fundamentally grasp its soul, and the true nature of its wines. You cannot help but be struck by the estate’s legacy, its architecture and its amazing interiors, which were designed by Jacques Garcia. The modernity of the place is equally arresting. I have not yet encountered another vineyard where such technical prowess in winemaking is coupled with an absolute respect for the beauty of the site. This ability to elevate an already magnificent site with exceptional facilities, whether for winemaking or for receiving visitors, is unprecedented.
I have lovely memories of tasting old vintages as well as more recent ones. Cos d’Estournel has a definite personality, but it doesn’t necessarily reveal itself right away. It is a wine with a great deal of character. For me, that is the definition of elegance. The wines of the estate are quite discreet but at the same time they are extremely expressive on the palate, with very fine-grained tannins that linger on through the finish. This is one of the hallmarks of Cos d’Estournel.
I have a beautiful memory of the 1996 vintage, which is often reputed to be a bit austere and a bit compact but it is wonderful now and has been for the last year and a half. I recently tasted the 1998 vintage; it is extremely sophisticated and masterfully executed, but it is not quite ready.The 2008 vintage, the first vintage to be crafted in the new cellars, on the other hand, despite being ten years younger, is somewhat similar to the 1996 vintage: it is very delicate, very refined and very elegant.
More than a single memory, it is a question of continuity for me. In 1998, I was a student in hospitality management when I opened and tasted the iconic 1982 vintage of a grand vin from Bordeaux for the first time. It was a Cos d’Estournel. Now, twenty-two years later, I still recall that moment. It amuses me to see how Cos d’Estournel has always stayed with me, from that first tasting of a 1982 vintage to my first visit to the estate and of course the shock I felt upon seeing that incredible picture of the château in a book as a teenager. I can still remember the photo’s caption: “The unique Sino-Byzantine architecture of Cos d’Estournel.”
How could I not fall in love?