An afternoon with Jacques Thienpont, Proprietor, Le Pin.
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Listen to the PODCAST
It’s a lovely sunny day in downtown Pomerol, I’m standing in the shade of two pine trees, in front of a modest, slightly dilapidated house, which can’t really be described as a chateau, as Jacques Thienpont arrives on his bicyclette to allow me to taste his 2009 Le Pin.
This is my first meeting with JT, a man who not only has been very successful but clearly has a sense of humour. He speaks about his plans to demolish the modest little house beside the two Pine Trees, and build a swimming pool and tennis court. Its only when he mentions that from here he intends to host the Pomerol International Tennis Masters that I realise the truth is intermingled with humour!
We step into the chais of the winery containing 29 barrels of what is no doubt the most valuable 2009 merlot on the planet and he assembles a special Antique Wine Company blend. Sadly only three glasses of this cuvee will ever be available, one for me, one for my colleague Julien, and one for himself, and we are going to drink it now. “I purchased a spitune but after a few days I left it at home because no-one used it” said Jacques! M Thienpont emphasises the contrast between different barrels, remarking upon the almost daily changes at this stage of the wines life, comparing this to that of the female temperament, although he consistently complements his wife Fiona’s winemaking abilities and enthusiasm for the management of Le Pin.
At Le Pin fermentation is carried out in small stainless steel tanks with the malolactic fermatation in barrique. Historically the 225 ltr new barriques have been supplied by Seguin Moreau, but in 2009 for the first time the boss at Taransaud has convinced them to experiment with one of their barells. This tonellerie based in Cognac is very popular in burgundy, but seen less in Bordeaux. JT comments that he expects the effect of their oak to be more but still refined, whereas his Seguin M barrels tend to become almost completely diffused after their first 6 months.
The first vintage of Le Pin was 1979, it was the debut of the “garage wines” followed by Valandraud. Initially the vineyard was only 1 hectare and subsequently expanded to its current 2ha20. I asked Jacques how Le Pin has managed to succeed in being recognised as similar in status to the Medoc 1st growths, he interrupted me to point out “ it’s not gone to my head – it’s the result of constant uninterrupted quality that has been recognised by the market”. JT insists he doesn’t interfere with the market, but keeps wine making simple, no cooling or heating system in the winery and just lets the wine do its own thing.
In 2009 the harvest took place on two days, 22nd and 25th September (after the rain). The wine has a surprisingly low level of alcohol at 13.5%, especially in comparison with other Merlot wines in this vintage. According to Thienpont this is entirely the result of terroir and the earths gravel content, on the gentle slope that provides drainage.
The 2009 shows a dense purple colour, solid to the rim, tannins are so approachable, plenty of tannin but no aggression or masculinity. “Women love this wine, but personally I prefer wine that I have to flight with a little” remarks Thienpont. In the mouth the wine envelopes the palate with super-concentrated sweet black fruit, exotic, and leaving this rich coating around the mouth which seems to go on for ever.
Thienpont is also currently experimenting with three barrels of wine he has made on some nearby land. A few ares he purchased nearby but this won’t be included in Le Pin. He only sells this wine to some of his chums in Belgium as generic Pomerol.
I asked Thienpont how he felt about the fact that his wine sold for such astronomical amounts of money, in particular his 1982 vintage which the Antique Wine Company last sold a case of for £50,000. He compares his wine to artistic masterpieces, and although he finds it difficult to identify his favourite of the 29 vintages produced so far, (“if you have twelve children, then how can you say one is your favourite”? he remarks), and he goes on to say that his first three vintages, he regrettably sold in their youth to repay the money his bank loaned to him to buy the vineyard. “I wish I had kept the wine and the debt, and sold just a few cases to repay them years later”. It is certainly interesting how the appreciating value of this precious liquid has outpaced the cost of borrowed money so dramatically.
Talking further about how many of the older vintages might still be on the market, Jacques remarked that he only has one bottle of the 1982 in his cellar, I am still unsure if he was joking or serious! He does admit to having more bottles of his first 1979 vintage, although he suggests it was his “draft attempt” and might not be the best example of Le Pin to buy.
Le Pin received more visitors to taste its wine en-primeur this year than usual, especially from Asia and some from China. According to Jacques, the Chinese are becoming accustomed to giving Le Pin as gifts, especially at the highest political levels. The Chinese gift Lafite to one another regularly, but if it’s for an important politician or official, then apparently the equally pronounceable Le Pin is the wine to give.
We stepped outside onto the ploughed piece of land designated for ”proposed swimming pool and tennis court that is so close to Jacques heart ”. Jacques confirmed to me that he has purchased land in St Emilion, a rumour that I had heard recently. He said that he chose the site adjacent to Troplong Mondot, for two reasons; the first being because he thinks Cabernet Franc will be an increasingly important ingredient in overcoming the consequences of global warming, and secondly because he will be in good company! No doubt Christine Valette, proprietor of Troplong, will feel the same!
After a most interesting, informative and entertaining hour, Jacques set of on his journey home, in the same modest way in which he arrived, on his bicyclette!
For Decanter's follow-up on this story and the latest wine news, updated daily, go to decanter.com http://www.decanter.com/news/297422.html
© Copyright 2010 Stephen Williams
Tags: le, pin, thienpont, visit, stephen, williams, chateau, pomerol
En primeur | General
Tags: primeur, futures, chateau, yquem, 1989, 2009, pierre, lurton, ygrec, cabernet, merlot, franc, sauvignon
Tags: pavie, primeur, futures, 2009, chateau, decesse, monbousquet, perse, emilion
Day 2 - Pontet Canet, Montrose and Leoville-las-Cases
Perhaps, not surprisingly, Pontet Canet can’t reach the heights of the Lafite we tasted just before lunch yesterday. Nonetheless, there’s no question that this is a rising star in Bordeaux. Moreover, Alfred Tesseron and his team have produced another good wine in 2009 but which perhaps lacked a bit of depth and was just a touch austere on the finish. 15 points.
Of course, Pontet-Canet is the only classed growth to have been certified as biodynamic and whilst there isn’t time to go into that here, I will delve into it for sure on a podcast at some future point.
And like Latour, they are using horsepower to work the soil rather than tractors, said their chef de cave Jeanne-Michel Comme who I talked to at length about the benefits of this natural approach to vine growing.
‘We have three horses. But I think we will have more. They are only a brick in the wall we want to build. Because to improve the wines, we have to take care of the soil. When we started to farm biodynamically, we noticed that the soils were in bad shape because of damaging pesticides and heavy tractors which compacted it and prevented oxygen from getting to the natural microbes in the soil. So we have to get the soil in the right condition for the microbes to return. Then the soil will be in better health which we hope and expect that will improve condition of the and ultimately the fruit and the wine. But this will take years. It is a long process.’
Our next stop was Montrose in St Estephe. It too has ambitions under its relatively new owner Martin Bougyes and Technical Director Nicholas Glumineau – not least because of the number of building projects on the go at this second growth, including plans to generate all their own electricity using solar panels.
However, they’re not just expanding their capacity in the cellar,they have recently bought 22ha of vineyards from Phelan-Segur. According to Glumineau what is so exciting about this is that is a very good terroir. ‘It is the same kind of soil at the top of the hill abutting the estate and used to be owned by Montrose a long time ago. So we are very happy to get it. The vines are not too old or too young vines and I think it was the best part of Phelan Segur.’
Glumineau showed us four wines including the first and second wines of Tronquoy Lalande. Both had a lot more Merlot because of the terroir – it has more clay and less gravel. But I preferred the Montrose wines – particularly the Grand Vin.
72% of production has gone into the wine with Cabernet at 65% and 29% being Merlot. To me this is very pure, polished and fairly monumental but it’s also surprisingly approachable now. I am sure it will be a vin de garde because of its sheer concentration and fresh acidity. The tannins are also powerful but ripe and the fruit is terrific. So the balance is good and there’s no hint of heaviness. 18 points.
Last but by no means least is Las-Cases in St Julien, which remains one of the leading performers of all the classified growths. More often than not, it’s First Growth quality and the rumours that are ricocheting around Bordeaux are that M Delon has produced something special in 2009.
Apparently, 300 visitors showed up on Monday and Tuesday was just as busy, according to chef de Cave Bruno Rolland whose family have been at Las-Cases for the last three generations.
The Nenin was good from Pomerol but I preferred the Potensac from the left bank, which I thought was really impressive this year and will be a great value wine for drinkers. Also impressive was the debut vintage of Le Petit Lion, Las-Cases’ brand new second wine. It had excellent jammy fruit with a hint of tobacco. Also on top form was Clos du Marquis which was very well made and I gave it 18. To me it was a velvet glove in an iron fist.
But the Las-cases simply blows you away. It is the complete package – sweet, cedary, very ripe, creamy tannins. And there’s an awesome black fruit sweetness with a savoury character. The colour is opaque and there’s a fat texture full of glycerine without being over extracted. And it has wonderful length and balance. To me this is vinous perfection again and I have no hesitation in giving it a perfect 20.
On a final note, what I also like about the Las-Cases is the alcohol level at just 13.4%. My view so far is that the very best wines of 2009 are at or around this level and the common thread which links them is Cabernet Sauvignon. Similarly, the least successful wines that I have tasted with higher alcohol of over 14% are from the Right bank with higher percentages of Merlot.
So the conclusion I am reaching is that this is shaping up to be more of a left bank vintage – and here’s why. Essentially, the left bank chateaux could pick the ripe cabernet at the right time when it was ripe and not too alcoholic. But on the Right bank, many chateaux have had to wait for their Merlot grapes to achieve full phenolic ripeness. And, of course, that has meant a big build up of sugar and has resulted in some wines being overextracted or just too alcoholic for their own good.
However, today I’ll get a much clearer picture of the Right bank as my itinerary today includes the likes of Cheval Blanc and Petrus. So tune in later for the latest news on this exciting vintage.
Tags: pontet, canet, montrose, leoville, las, cases, chateau, primeur, futures, 2009, parker
Palmer, Latour and Haut-Brion
Horsing around at Latour…. See below for the inside track on Latour’s new secret weapon.
After a quick, but nonetheless good lunch at Rauzan-Segla, it was a short journey across the road to our next appointment at Palmer, one of Margaux’s undoubted superstar chateaux. It may have been a short trip but, for me, it was a big leap in quality. At the top end, this is turning out to be a fascinating and intriguing vintage.
There’s no question in my tasting notes that Palmer is one of the firm front runners of all the wines I’ve tasted today. For a kick-off Alter Ego, (its second wine) was hugely impressive and already temptingly drinkable . However, centre stage was completely occupied by the Grand Vin.
Frankly, the Palmer 2009 is a stunning wine, which rates a handsome 19/20. The blend is 41% Cabernet and a substantial 52% Merlot and a significant 7% Petit Verdot, which is most unusual. On the palate, it is rich, sweet, dense and seamlessly elegant (as Margaux should be) with intense black and red fruits and remarkably supple tannins. The oak is 50% new, but the fruit is so vibrant that the oak barely registers. The finish is awesomely long.
For me, Palmer’s drinking window could open sooner rather than later. But will it age? Yes, I think it almost certainly will – because of the acidity and tannin that underpin the wine. This could be another 1990 in the making. Except that this is even better.
The other question to answer is whether 2009 is shaping up as a great vintage? The word in the tasting rooms of the Medoc is that it is looking that way. It’s certainly shaping up as something unusual and exceptional. It’s ripe but not like 2003 because it has more freshness. Nor is it like 2005 because of the fleshy ripeness of the tannins. When it comes to vintages, comparisons with previous years only take you so far. In other words it’s something else again.
However, it wasn’t easy either. According to Sabrina Pernet, Palmer’s Technical Director, the most challenging aspect was when to pick. ‘We had to wait a bit for phenolic ripeness for the tannins to soften, which was a little scary because the potential alcohol was getting worryingly high. But it all came right because we waited and it worked perfectly. The tannins are beautifully ripe this year.’
Off to Latour
It was tempting to stay longer at Palmer to talk more about the vintage. But we had a 3.00 appointment at Latour. Naturally, one doesn’t want to be late for Latour so we made a quick getaway, which was just as well as there was a bit of a bottle neck in St Julien. Thankfully, we arrived at Latour right on schedule.
As ever, the vineyards and chai looked immaculate as we were shown into the tasting room. The 09 Pauillac – Engerer’s third wine was good, but no match for its second wine Les Forts de Latour. Already, rumours are circulating that Parker has rated this the best ever Les Forts. I wouldn’t be surprised.
What did surprise me was that Sonia Gerlou of Latour told me that this was one of the most difficult and complicated harvests that Latour has ever completed. It had to be done very quickly using an army of 200 pickers. Time was of the essence. In contrast 2005 was a breeze, she told us.
However, the result for both the deuxieme and the Grand Vin in 2009 are without question seriously prodigious efforts and are right up there in the pantheon of great Latours.
The latter in particular is a Latour de force, which has been treated to 100% new oak. There were concerns about the levels of alcohol, but what saved the day was the high acidity. Certainly, there is a remarkable freshness and ripeness to the wine, which almost seem at odds with each other. But tasting is believing.
Just 38% of Latour has gone into the Grand Vin, so selection has been rigorous again. Indeed, only 8,000 cases have been made, which is very, very low – even for Latour. As for the cepages – it is 91% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Merlot – no Cab Franc or Petit Verdot made the cut.
On the palate? Well the nose seems to have been lifted from Margaux, such are the aromatics. But look out for the cedar and lead pencils, plus the creamy cherry and cassis fruit and sexy sumptuous tannins. The balance is poised and pinpoint, perhaps because Engerer has kept the alcohol firmly in check at a manageable 13.7%. And there’s a sheen and polish to this wine. Frankly, it’s pretty faultless and registers another 19 points out of a maximum 20.
So we left on another high. But as you’ll see from the picture, what also caught my attention at Latour was a magnificent nag called Olympe who was dutifully ploughing the rows between Latour’s hallowed vines just in front of owner Francois Pinault’s pad and the historic tower at Latour.
Why a horse in this age of the latest gizmo technology? According to her boss Bertrand, she is one of three horses now fully employed at Latour. And the reason is simple. They do less damage than tractors to the environment and to the soil. ‘Tractors compact the soil and create more erosion. Olympe does no damage at all,’ Bertrand told me. A case of back to the future at Latour, where clearly not everything is ultra high-tec. Personally, I think it’s fabulous to see such traditional, tried and tested approaches to viticulture and vinificaton making a comeback.
Meanwhile, tomorrow morning, look out for my latest blog on Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. They’re worth the wait….
Tags: latour, 2009, primeur, futures, chateau, palmer, haut-brion, brion, haut, vintage
Tags: pichon, baron, primeur, 2009, tasting, chateau, rating, pauillac
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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