Above: Old meets new at Château Cheval Blanc
Earlier this week, whilst visiting Bordeaux with an American client, I enjoyed the opportunity to return to Château Cheval Blanc and watch the inaugural vintage going into the newly constructed, state-of-the-art winery that is adjacent to the historic Château buildings.
This was my first trip back to the Château since their celebratory Grand Opening of the new winery during Vinexpo some three months ago.
The sight of the newly-installed cement tanks – with their distinctive pod shape - now full of fermenting grape juice is both memorable and impressive. One cannot help but notice the immense attention paid to absolute cleanliness here. The entire new facility resembles something between a clinical operating theatre, an opera house and a food processing plant.
During our tour, I also observed a number of small but important new details. For instance, not only does each vat now display the relevant reference information about the specific parcel from which the grapes contained within were harvested, it also shows the age of the vines from the relevant plot, often dating back between 50 and 100 years. It is clear that the ability to carefully track each individual plot has become absolutely vital to producing a successful modern vintage.
The 2011 growth cycle in this area of France has been one of continual challenges. Incredibly however, after months of inclement weather, during our particular week in Bordeaux (as was the case across much of Europe), a wonderful Indian summer had arrived.
I have no doubt that my friend Pierre Lurton, who spreads his talents between here and Château d’Yquem, will be especially excited about the prospect of another magnificent vintage. Thus far, it certainly looks to be something very special for the sweet wines of Sauternes.
However, here at Cheval Blanc, I couldn’t help but notice that the Cabernet Franc and Merlot berries coming into the winery required the strictest of selections during triage – a process that the many St. Emilion Mesdames and Messieurs on hand were approaching with both concentration and vigor. This harsh selection was necessary even though a significant part of the crop had already been dropped earlier in the summer during what is known as the green harvest, when unripe fruit is taken off the vines after a poor or uneven flowering period.
As I head back to London, my reflections are that, despite such a massive investment by LVMH, ultimately it is nature that still plays the leading role in making great wine. Surely my worst fear of further rising prices due to low yields (reduced from 35hl to 25hl per hectare) will not materialize this year!
By happenstance, en route back to the airport, I noticed Jacques Thienpont (Le Pin) and Alexandre Thienpont (Vieux Château Certan) messing about with a few final bunches in one of their roadside vineyards. I pulled the car over and we spent a few minutes casually talking about the past En Primeur sales campaign and the prospects for the next one. Candidly, Jacques explained that, “the little thing that holds children money in it, the savings, it is broken. The piggy bank,” he said, “it’s broken.” Jacques is a smart guy!
It seemed to me that this marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the marketing!
Tags: 2010 pricing, antique wine company, Pierre Lurton, Bordeaux, Bordeaux 2010, Chateau Cheval Blanc, Chateau Le Pin, Cheval Blanc, Le Pin, Stephen Williams, The Anique Wine Company, thienpont, Vieux Chateau Certan, yquem, Chateau d'Yquem, Jacques Thienpont
Travel | Wine tasting
Since we opened AWC Wine Academy at our headquarters in Marylebone, it has been a real privilege to receive clients who occasionally stop by and taste great wines with our team. This is mutually beneficial because we like to stay up to date with vintages and our clients get the chance to share the expertise of those on hand.Earlier this week we had the pleasure of receiving one of our North American clients whose favourite tipples are the top wines of Pomerol. We decided to take a look at how the Right Bank wines from the 2000 vintage were coming along. Having tasted some of the Left Bank First Growths from 2000 recently, I felt that they were still too tight and tannic - not yet getting close to their best drinking window. However, on the evidence of this tasting, the Right Bank, Merlot-based wines are already more approachable. We began on a high with the 2000 Pétrus. Self-evidently, it is still a complete baby. This was immediately clear from the depth of colour – barely a hint of ageing around the rim of the wine. The nose is also full of primary fruit; still no secondary aromas at this stage. In the mouth the wine cascades over your palate, with sweet cassis, cherry and plum fruit, followed by an echo of cream and minerals. The acidity gives the wine a sense of vim and vigour with the tannic structure giving it the necessary stuffing to keep everything in harmony and balance. Significantly, while the tannins are beautifully ripe, they are just beginning to open up and soften. Although this will develop for several more decades (and will be worth the wait), it is undoubtedly very enjoyable already. 98 Points.
How do you follow Pétrus? The answer is, with difficulty. However, a bottle of 2000 Le Pin was the perfect foil. As with many Le Pin vintages, what struck me most was the accessibility of the wine – its texture noticeably silkier than the more muscular Pétrus. The fabulously perfumed nose was exquisite – blackcurrants, violets and camphor. The utterly refined, sweet and creamy palate was more of the same, with a finish that seemed endless. One cannot help but love Le Pin’s exotic, flamboyant and hedonistic style. This was right up there with the best vintages from this tiny estate. But will it age as well as the Pétrus? On this, the jury is still out. According to my tasting notes, there’s definitely no rush to drink this or the Pétrus just yet, as both will repay considerable cellaring. However, my money would be on the Pétrus to make the oldest bones out of this pair of sumptuous Pomerols. 97 Points. Last, but by no means least, we uncorked the 2000 Lafleur to see how it was shaping amongst such esteemed company. Happily, it too shone quite brightly – though closer to Pétrus than Le Pin in style. This wine is impressive due to the purity of plum and damson fruit along with the cedar and mineral components - all of which were cushioned by à point acidity, balance and texture. Again, this is still one for the cellar. Yet, like both the Pétrus and Le Pin, it too is beginning to come out of its shell as the tannins are now starting to mellow. 98 Points.On the evidence of this tasting, my advice would be to resist pulling the corks on these wines for a little while yet. However, if you do, you certainly won’t be disappointed. The message for our clients is - next time you’re passing through London, we would welcome you to stop by. We prefer a little notice though, so we can be sure to have the wines decanted and ready!
Further to this profound tasting, we wanted to provide you with the opportunity to enjoy these phenomenal wines yourself, particularly since we now have case quantities of these rarities available. As we’ve just tasted these wines and can comment first-hand on their exceptional quality, speak with one of our expert advisors today to secure them as your own.
I look forward to hearing your own thoughts on these wines and towards recieving you in our beautiful facility when you are next in London.
Stephen Williams, CEO
Tags: Le Pin, Lafleur, Chateau Lafleur, Chateau Petrus, petrus, AWC Wine Academy, antique wine company, fine wine, Jacques Thienpont, pin, private tasting, Stephen Williams, The Anique Wine Company, thienpont, wine education, wine academy, wine, wine school, wine tasting
Education | Wine tasting
Although I enjoy the annual En Primeur tastings in Bordeaux enormously, it can feel rather like a red wine marathon after two or three days of continuous and intensive sipping and spitting. Tasting so many tannic, adolescent wines really can become a challenge to one’s skills and requires both concentration and physical stamina. So, it is always a highlight of the week when Martin Krajewski generously throws his annual En Primeur party at Chateau de Sours, which this year was on Wednesday evening. It is the perfect opportunity to relax for a short while and catch up with old friends and each year there is a different mix of people and of course, different wines.
Above: Dusk at Chateau de Sours - Guests heading to a magnificent dinner.
On this occasion, the forty guests included Allan Cheeseman and Ken Christie, MW, who are both now consulting for various clients, as well as a few fellow merchants. A handful of journalists also usually attend, this year we shared the table with top wine communicator Matthew Jukes as well as Adam Lechmere and Amy Wislocki from Decanter Magazine.Per usual, Martin put on quite a dinner and pulled out some great wines for us to drink, rather than just taste. We quaffed a lot of the brilliant Chateau de Sours sparkling rosé in the early evening sun and then tucked into some of Martin’s excellent Chateau la Sours Blanc, which showed extremely well with the first course.But pride of place went to an Imperial of 1982 Leoville-Las-Cases which Martin had purchased from The Antique Wine Company some years ago. The wine was drinking beautifully, so too were the numerous bottles of 2001 Figeac, which, by the end of the evening I suspect we drank an entire case of. Just to finish things off I brought along an Imperial of 2002 Chateau d’Yquem which enabled us all to retire with a sweet taste on our palate. As ever, it was quite the evening and the best possible mix of business and pleasure.
Above: The end-of the evening at Chateau de Sours - 1982 Las Cases and 2002 d'Yquem (Note: Conseillante and Mouton had been consumed earlier in the week.)
Despite the late night, we managed an early start on Thursday morning in yet more splendid spring sunshine. Our first appointment was at Chateau Le Pin in Pomerol, where Jacques Thienpont was as warm and welcoming as ever. The last time I saw Jacques was in London when, quite coincidentally, we happened to be in the same restaurant for dinner. As we parked the car in front of this modest property, I couldn’t help but notice the extent to which the new cellars, designed by a Belgian architect, have progressed since I was last at Le Pin. Jacques is hoping to have them ready by June, which can only add to the extraordinary quality coming out of this extraordinary property.Before we tasted the 2010 Le Pin, I asked Jacques how he felt the vintage had gone. ‘It was a very good vintage,’ Jacques replied. ‘We had a bit of coulure and millerandage but August was dry and not too hot. By September, we needed some rain and when it came in September it really saved the vintage. I then took the decision to pick very soon after that even though the grapes were still a bit damp. Some people chose to wait and pick later, but I am happy I didn’t.’The 2010 Le Pin exudes effortless power and concentration, not to mention deep colour, fabulous freshness and pinpoint acidity. This is a textbook Le Pin with 14.2% alcohol, ripe fleshy tannins and superb purity of sweet black fruit, concentrated minerals and a sumptuous finish. The wine is not as flamboyant as 2009 but it is every bit as good and will age and develop beautifully - of that, there is no doubt. 98 points.Of course, Le Pin is beyond boutique and just produces a tiny amount of wine each year that collectors fight to get their hands on. This year, the production is likely to be about 5-6,000 bottles. Demand will be as strong as ever for this exceptional wine.However, for those like me who would like to taste Jacques’ handiwork more regularly, I can report that he is producing a new St. Emilion Grand Cru, starting from 2010, having bought seven hectares of land adjacent to Troplong-Mondot last year. He is not going to sell the wine En Primeur this year but will instead wait to see how it develops. Nevertheless, he is extremely optimistic about its quality and given the terroir of the location, it will surely be another star in the making. Also, he told me that he has decided on a name for the new wine. It is to be wittily and cleverly called L’If – French for “yew tree”. Le Pin, (French for pine tree), was so named because of the pine tree outside the old chai.Before we left, Jacques also kindly poured the 2008 Le Pin for us to compare with 2010. The wine was almost Burgundian on the nose and had lovely fresh, sweet raspberry and strawberry fruit, full of finesse and elegance. The wine was delicious and altogether more delicate and fine boned than both 2009 and 2010. For me it is typical of the vintage but perhaps might not have the longevity of its younger siblings?From Le Pin, it was a very short drive to visit another Thienpont – Alexandre - at Vieux Chateau Certan. Already, rumours had circulated that VCC had made something very special in 2010 and I was keen to see if the wine lived up to its billing. First, Alexandre explained how the small yield had produced such perfectly concentrated grapes. ‘Everything was perfect – we had good alcohol, ripe (but not over-ripe) grapes and superb acidity.’ For those of you who like the technical figures, that translated into 14.5% alcohol, a score of 90 on the tannin index, 3.3g/L of total acidity and 3.7pH.
Below: Vieux Chateau Certan's Alexandre Thienpont. Producer of one of the very best wines of 2010
‘What is remarkable is that we achieved such results twice in a row. Although, I would say that 2010 is even more concentrated than 2009,’ he added. For me these two vintages are better than 89 and 90. You have to go back to 1949 and 1950, which were superb in Pomerol, to match 2009 and 2010. These sort of vintages really only happen once in your lifetime. So to get two in succession will make it very difficult for us to upstage in 2011!’Again, the key to the success of this wine was not extracting too much. ‘We pumped over with great care, more often but much more gently,’ Alexandre revealed. ‘And we were constantly tasting it to make sure that we never pushed it too far.’Is the hype surrounding VCC justified? The answer is an unequivocal yes – because this is certainly one of the wines of the vintage. The wine has everything – poise, balance, structure, stunning damson fruit, length, seamless tannins and a waft of acidity which lifts the wine into a different dimension. 99 points. Put this on your wish-list as soon as possible. In Day 4, Part 2, coming later today, Julien Froger covers another foray back to the Left Bank, this time to Chateau Latour...
Tags: Le Pin, Chateau de Sours, Jacques Thienpont, Pomerol, St Emilion, Vieux Chateau Certan
En primeur | Travel | Wine tasting
Sitting in a warm, comfortable West London restaurant on a cold February afternoon with my Managing Director, I reflected on just how lucky I am to be in the fine wine business...
After a brief blind tasting of the 2006 Domaine des Beaumont Chambolle Musigny, our main course of red mullet arrives at the table; the crisp skin and delicate flavours of the fish marries perfectly with the gentle, subtly perfumed Musigny. As the conversation turns from our respective summer holiday plans to the upcoming 2010 en primeur campaign, a small party of people spills through the front door, including none other than Mr. Jacques Thienpont, owner of Chateau Le Pin. This unexpected surprise provides the perfect opportunity for an impromptu catch-up and the chance to discuss the 2010 vintage (which we can’t wait to taste). It also serves to remind us all of what a small world it really is.
Trying to keep my waist line as thin as possible for The Antique Wine Company’s impending marathon effort this weekend - when, along with Will Buckland, Wine Investment Analyst and Levi Hensel, Online Marketing Manager, I will be going the full 26.2 miles for the first time! - I opt for the assortment of sorbet to finish. It is a perfect palate cleanser.
Normally, I would accompany the description of such a gastronomic and vinous treat with a picture of us enjoying the wine as well. However, as we were both laid a bit low with winter colds, any photos of us imbibing were off the menu this time around. Check back here regularly for more accounts of beautiful meals, great wines and interesting encounters with renowned individuals from the world of fine wine.
Nicholas Connell, Executive Assistant to Stephen Williams
Tags: Burgundy, Chambolle Musigny, Bordeaux 2010, Chateau Le Pin, Jacques Thienpont, Le Pin, The Antique Wine Company
Stephen Williams, Founder and CEO
Stephen Williams began trading as a wine merchant in 1982 and wishes he had stocked his cellar with Château Pétrus on day one. Since founding The Antique Wine Company, Stephen has built The Antique Wine Group into an organisation with clients in 63 countries and a global network of offices, representatives and business groups. Regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in fine and rare wines, he has created some of the greatest wine cellars and collections in existence – in châteaux, palaces, wineries, hotels and private residences across Europe, Asia and North America. As a popular commentator on the wine industry, fine wine investment and the global wine market, Stephen is frequently quoted by both the UK and international press corps. Along with his regular lectures at AWC Wine Academy, this blog offers a behind-the-scenes view into the world of fine wine.
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