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...