I recently spent a weekend in Los Angeles hosted by none other than Dr. Bipin Desai, of course. This particular event celebrated the frères Thienpont, Alexandre and Jacques, and their respective properties, Vieux Chateau Certan and Le Pin, two of Pomerol’s brightest stars. It was a magical weekend full of magical wines, and while Le Pin was expected to be great and delivered, it was Vieux Chateau Certan that stole the show, proving yet again that it is still Pomerol’s best-kept secret. Unfortunately, I missed Friday’s session featuring many of the younger VCC’s as I was conducting an auction that night, but I made it out just in time for Saturday’s lunch, where many golden oldies awaited.

We started with a 1976 Vieux Chateau Certan, which had aromas of bean and green stalk initially, gradually becoming more earthy. The tannins were noticeably drying ”“ one could smell the dryness even, but pinches of milk chocolate provided just enough sweetness to still keep the wine interesting. The wine was a touch hot at first; its t n’ a jumped out on the palate. There were more green olive flavors with a hint of carob and a bright, tarry finish. The green olives grew to take over the nose as well, and while the 1976 was somewhat lean and a dry wine overall, it really grew on me and was one of Alexandre’s favorites of this first flight (90).

The 1975 Vieux Chateau Certan had more earth and minerals, but more plums and cassis surfaced as the sweetness came through. It had a bruising but solid, tannic personality that was enjoyable because it had enough fruit to match, but definitely backward, almost backsided. There was nice acidity with a flash of hot pan on the finish, and it also had a gentle touch of green bean. Manny felt it wasn’t ready, and Ed said it was tannic in keeping with the vintage (91).

The 1971 Vieux Chateau Certan had a greener, dirtier nose with a lot of wet earth and ashtray. The fruits were very black and rolled in hay and oat. The palate was leaner with more oat flavors, along with lean citrus and carob. Neal Martin preferred the ‘71 to the ’70, and Alexandre called it more ‘Burgundian.’ It was my table’s consensus favorite and danced like an agile middleweight (91).

The 1966 Vieux Chateau Certan was a touch corky or maybe a glass issue? It was chlorine city in the nose, but the palate was pretty and smooth with a perfect, satiny balance. The ’66 was a rich yet elegant wine that was pure and long with nice plum, citrus and chocolate flavors. It was Bipin’s favorite of the flight, and mine too (93).

The 1970 Vieux Chateau Certan was a la the ’71, but dirtier with more hay and barn, but its red fruits were sweeter. The palate was tangy and flirted with being stewed, say tomato, a bit gamy in a gentlemanly way, still nice. It was Manny and Ed’s favorite, and Bipin’s third place (90).

Alexandre summed up this first flight by saying that ‘the seventies were difficult,’ and while 1971 was his favorite, 1970 was next, and the 1976 was ‘surprisingly good, but like a fire stroke, not long in keeping.’

The second flight began with one of the few magnums of the day, the 1964 Vieux Chateau Certan, which was picked before the rain, Alexandre revealed, while most of the Left Bank didn’t, which is why there is a disparity amongst the two banks in 1964, with the Right Bankers being great and the Leftists not. Its nose was clean and fresh, a bit spiny and almost waxy. Nice black fruits and dark chocolate emerged with additional aromas of leather and a touch of black bing cherry. The palate was youthful out of magnum, giving the wine extra vigor and heartiness. The finish was dry and desert-like with minerals shining through as well as this tangy, apricot kinkiness. Frank found it ‘great,’ and Alexandre deemed it powerful, flirting with outstanding. It really stood out in the flight thanks to the magnum Viagra factor. Ed was loving it accordingly (95M).

The 1962 Vieux Chateau Certan was from magnum as well and had a super chocolaty, very sexy nose oozing caramel and other things like hints of garden and yeasty goodness. The palate tasted sweetly of baked chocolate chip flavors and was round and tasty, a bit warm but still soft yet chewy. ‘This is a wine for wine lovers,’ Alexandre cooed, going on to share, ‘vigor and power is not always equal to quality,’ hailing a 1971 La Tache as the best wine he ever had. The 1964 was pure drinking pleasure, Alexandre’s favorite of the flight, almost Burgundian, and it gained and held well (94M).

The 1961 Vieux Chateau Certan was very exotic and minty, over the top with a hint of crème de menthe and another mysterious herbal liqueur. There were earth and plum aromas behind the kinkiness, and the palate continued these super exotic tendencies. It was so full of sweet flavors it was if the skins of the grapes were going to break. There was a slight dust of tannins on the finish in this delicious and hedonistic wine (95).

The 1959 Vieux Chateau Certan was almost as exotic as the ’61, full of spice and purple fruits. The ’59 was more ‘austere and proper’ per Dave and had great spine and spice in the mouth. The palate became more wild and fruity in a gamy and autumnal kind of way, with its brown sugar and spice indicating it was heading towards its sunset. Frank and others thought it was oxidized while Bipin liked it despite some oxidation. 1959 was also Alexandre’s birthyear, who concurred that the bottle was not 100% (94A).

The 1955 Vieux Chateau Certan was controversial with its very wild and fruity nose that showed some sherry and gingerbread. It wasn’t cooked, but Alexandre again felt it was not 100% pure, but it was still drinkable to me. Toffee and coffee flavors came out with almost a Muscat late harvest note, adding to the rich, creamy and exotic feel (93A).

The 1952 Vieux Chateau Certan had a ratherspiny and stony nose. The palate punched forward with the most vigor in the flight, but the wine was overall dry, lemony and earthy and metallic on the finish. Jacques Thienpont found the ’52 closed and tannic but good. (92).

Jacques Thienpont spoke about this flight and hailed the ’61, ’62, ‘64 and ’52 in that order, but he found the ’59 and ’55 problematic. The Good Lawyer hailed this flight as a ‘huge step up from the last flight and all typical for the year,’ noting the cherries, plums and rich fruits. He also liked the ’61 the best, followed by the ’59, ’62 (‘smooth and silky, as good as it gets’), the ’64, then ’52 (‘a bit lighter’) and then the ’55 (‘still excellent but dried out’). We found out that from 1934 to 1962, Jacques and Alexandre’s grandfather was the winemaker.

The last flight was a showstopper, beginning with the 1950 Vieux Chateau Certan, which had a beautiful, vibrant nose, dusty and full of spices, citrus, what I would call great cabinetry and ripe plums behind all that. Initially very bright, olives crept in the nose. The superb palate exquisitely balanced all the aromas and also showed great vigor with a stony finish. The structure and fruit were in perfect harmony, and this delicious wine finished strongly and solidly. As the Good Doctor put it, ‘there is not a single thing to fault about the ‘50’ (96).

The 1949 Vieux Chateau Certan had a pretty, citrusy, almost waxy nose, a bit more spiny than the ’50. The palate was clean, almost too clean, possibly reconditioned. The finish was leathery, dry and long, enjoyable but somewhat stripped, and it too got metallic. Marshall felt it was ‘restrained and a tad dried out.’ I have had better bottles (92).

The 1948 Vieux Chateau Certan had a divinenose full of olive, fig cake, anise and plum liqueur with a hint of coffee. The palate was unbelievable with a Lafleur-like sweetness and supreme Pomerol kink. This great ’48 became more gamy, and the Lafleur impression continued. I drank this one quickly as it was wine catnip. Alexandre said it was ‘normally better than the ’47’ (95).

The 1947 Vieux Chateau Certan – all I can start with is mmmm”¦good. Jim bowed entering the church of this great vintage. On the nose, chocolate and truffles merged with smoky dust and leather. The palate was sweet and delicious, showing great black and purple fruits. It was sweet and sugary, but delicious with enough spice to match, and the spine was so longgggggg. Ed summed it up best, ‘superb’ (97).

The 1945 Vieux Chateau Certan had great menthol aromas (and flavors) with super spine and spice in its nose. It had a rich, round, long and nutty palate full of great length and spine causing Mary to joke, ‘the war was worth it.’ Henry added, ‘viagra not needed.’ Great olive and toast flavors emerged on the finish. Jacques shared with us that ‘grandpa did not drink it for 15-20 years’ as it was so tannic in its youth (96).

The 1934 Vieux Chateau Certan was so exotic that it was almost tropical, round and delicious and dripping with fat. Mary called it ‘fabulous and port-like.’ There were great mandarin and apricot marmalade flavors. The ’34 was surprisingly delicious with a rich, round palate. It was ‘soft, juicy and balanced’ for Marshall, who gave it 99 points. It was Frank’s first time having the 1934, and for those of you that know the Good Doctor, if you can find a wine that he is only having for the first time, then that is saying something! His other half, Mary, aptly and topically noted, ‘this proves that good things can come out of economic depression.’ Its acidity was excellent and its finish foresty. Alexandre found the ’34 ‘surprising.’ I couldn’t help but think how each of these wines might have been a point or two higher were it not for the fact that they were all served in the same flight. Bravo (95)!

Unfortunately, the 1928 was corked (DQ). Rocky Mountain John was loving the 1950, as well as the softness of the ’34. The ’45, ’47 and ’48 trio stole the show for him, however. Manny loved the ’45 the most, hailing this flight as ‘old wines that are tasting new today. You can’t ask for anything more.’ Alexandre joked how in the 1940s, the way the Bordelais watched for rain was by putting a finger in the sky. He also commented that it is ‘impossible to compare the 2005 to the 1945; we have to turn the page.’ As to the question if people could make wine like this today, Alexandre slyly replied, ‘even better.’

That’s the best news I have heard all year.

The next afternoon we were at Spago doing the Le Pin thing, Le Pin thing. I believe we had every vintage except one; bonus prize to whoever figures out which one that be.
Le Pin is 100% Merlot, with an average Production of 400-600 cases, although in 1982 they only made 250 cases! In 1982, the average age of the vines was only four years, too. So much for that old vine theory, at least for those of you that like it”¦

But I digress. Bipn shuffled the deck of vintages, and the 1996 Le Pin came out on top. Green was the first aroma that came to mind, then sappy fruit behind that, plums and cassis, plums and cassis. There was a lot of stalk and a pinch of dark chocolate rounding out the nose. The palate was soft, round, tender and easy. The fruit was pleasant, still a bit green but very good in its soft, caressing way. It still had vigor and spice, this ‘hot year’ (92).

The 1994 Le Pin had a dirty nose in a leathery way, maybe a bit corky? The fruit was stewed in this earthy nose with a hint of black cherry coming out. There were pleasant green and purple plum flavors, but this was definitely a bit corked with dry tannins, earth and corky leather on the finish. There was a good sturdy wine underneath that gained in the glass, however. It was Jacques’ favorite of the flight, and ‘one of the wines of the vintage for many’ (91+A).

The 1991 Le Pin again had some green beans here but less than the first two, possessing more coffee and sour cherry fruit. The palate had lots of green olive flavors, but the mid-palate was watery. More barn came out in the nose. There was nice definition still on the finish in this pleasant but simple wine, which also had a hint of citrus without the tang (88).

The 1988 Le Pin had a creamy nose; it was easy to detect a step up here. There were more classic Pomerol elements – nice garden, spice, elegant purple fruits, smoke and grilled pheasant. The soft and tender palate had great balance. It was very refined with the lightest of grit on the finish”¦elegant city (92).

The 1986 Le Pin was more open on the nose, a little wild and gamy, with a richer style. There was that distinctive sweet fatness there, showing chocolate and mocha tan lines. The palate was even sweeter, pretty with even fatter fruit, an open knit style with Hollywood Jef admiring its sweetness as well. This was another ‘hot year’ (93).

Unfortunately, the 1979 Le Pin, its first vintage, was corked (DQ).

Bipin remarked how the first flight left him with a cabernet impression.

The second flight began with the 2002 Le Pin, whose young, fresh nose was still loaded with baby fat, plummy fruit, hints ofcoffee grinds and nice t ‘n a. There was also excellent spice, fat grapy fruit and nice structure aromas. This was impressive wine for 2002 – for a less desirable vintage, this wine was pretty desirable! Round and mouthfilling with nice flavors, the 2002 became more hearty after some food (92).

The 1999 Le Pin had a deep, dark nose with lots of black fruits, wax cleaner spice and some black olives. The palate was packed with dense fruit and was big, rich, meaty and lush. I liked the ’99 a lot; it was just delicious with a nice, leathery finish that popped (94).

The 1998 Le Pin had a surprisingly regal and refined nose that was subtle yet long. The palate was super sweet and kinky, more refined. It definitely kissed me rather than shook my hand. Completely different in style than the ’99, the 1998 had ‘incredible tobacco and cigar box’ per Bipin, but was thinner than I expected, although I could see hints of the future in this shy wine. Bipin also questioned whether it was ‘a little vegetal?’ It was Ed’s favorite of the flight (93+).

The 1995 Le Pin was corked”¦badly (DQ).

Someone likened the 1985 Le Pin to ‘basketball shoes.’ Its nose was a cat box, but there was sweet cherry underneath. I liked it, even though it was all cat box and sweet fruit. There was great balance and a great intensity, and while others didn’t care for it, I liked its twisted style but could not tell if it was affected or not (93A?)

The 1983 Le Pin had a sweet kinky nose, full of rich fruit. Its fruit was really great, the purest and most kaleidoscopic with that overripe kink like ’83 Lafleur. The palate was also rich, with nice earth and olive flavors twisting into blueberry and boysenberry jam extraordinaire. Bipin found it ‘seductive, elegant and sexy,’ and Jef kept stressing the sexy (95).

Bipin likened the flights to a ‘strip tease,’ as each flight revealed a different layer of the wine. Jef hailed Le Pin as ‘the epitome of elegance and balance,’ and it was. I couldn’t help but think how ironic it was that most people think Le Pin is some hedonistic fruit bomb. Having had very little experience with the wine myself, I have to say that I was one of them before this afternoon!

The third flight began with an impressive 2006 Le Pin. ‘Baby, baby, baby’ was how my note started. This wine had a great nose, with clean and outstandingly pure, plummy fruit buttressed by minerals. The palate was beautifully crafted with long and fine tannins, and dry flavors of earth, mineral and tobacco. The 2006 was really refined and sexy juice (94).

The 2005 Le Pin lived up to the hype and ultimately was wine of the afternoon for me. It had a great nose, t ‘n a city yet still refined but also with so much stuffing. There was noticeable citrus with decadent fruit ”“ cranberry, blueberry, blackberry, cassis, boysenberry ”“ everyone was invited! There was great spine and length, but the 2005 was still so elegant. Jef called it ‘a lip smacker’ and noted ‘kirsch and strawberry.’ The 2005 was all that and then some (97).

The 2004 Le Pin had a very shy nose that was almost non-existent. The palate was thick and rich with coffee, chocolate and peanut butter flavors. The 2004 was rich, round and easy with a nice minerally finish (92).

The 2001 Le Pin initially had a milky, weird nose, a bit sickly almost. The palate was very gamy, and the nose got richer and more concentrated, and its weirdness became pungent. While still smooth, the ’01 also had richness on the palate, which was a bit wild in a foresty way with bright vitamin flavors on the long finish. Nutty marzipan flavors became more apparent as it evolved in the glass (93).

The 2000 Le Pin was shy at first, but crushed red fruits slowly emerged with an icy edge. Cranberry, currant, strawberry were all there. The ’00 had a nice, clean style with a touch of green bean around the tightly-wound, sweet core of raspberry fruit flavors. Like the ’98, the ’00 was a bit shy, despite some expressive tannins. I wanted more from this heralded vintage (93).

The intense nose of the 1990 Le Pin really stood out, bursting with plums and cassis, along with their trees ready to be plucked from the garden of Versailles. Edges of green beans and stalk rounded out the nose. The palate was rich and lovely, continuing the decadent fruit theme with hints of coffee and more green bean. The 1990 had outstanding thickness and richness, setting it apart from most of the pack in this distinguished flight (96).

The 1989 Le Pin had amazing depth and complexity mixing the elements of ripe plums, cassis, fresh forest, and edges of stalk and milk. The palate was dry and austere, sharing that dry citrus edge of the ’85, but less pungent. It was pretty, pleasant and tangy, but again I wanted more from this vintage as well (94).

The 1982 Le Pin was corked. That was three so far, bummer (DQ).

Jef called Le Pin ‘a lover’s wine’ after this flight, going on with ‘silky, sexy, hot, back of the shoulder beautiful, dresses nicely, and the boobs are real.’ He knows LA. We were also told that there are no more five or six-liter bottle of Le Pin from 1996 on, but that they did make twenty of the 1982 to fill a special request!

The last flight was some of the lesser years, as Bipin believes the best flight should always be second-to-last to avoid any palate fatigue forthe finest wines.

The 1997 Le Pin had a mild nose of stalk, stem, mineral and earth. In the mouth, the wine was soft and tender with a touch of purple fruit, but this was an easy and simple wine and one of the day’s least impressive (88).

The 1993 Le Pin had a creamy and nutty nose, surprisingly and decadently good, with great tobacco aromas. The palate was tasty, round and smooth, delicious with tobacco and earth flavors, beautiful and exceeding my expectations for this vintage (91).

We were in the garden again with the 1992 Le Pin. The nose was kissed by cinnamon, while its palate was milky and a touch sour but pleasant in an average way, but ‘too light’ according to Jacques (86).

There were lots of olives and chocolate in the 1987 Le Pin. There was a dirty goodness here, and flavors of barn and earth seconded that notion. The palate continued the dirty theme, but the wine was very full for the vintage and had a round, sturdy and solid build (90).

It was hard not to love the pruney nose of the 1984 Le Pin. The prunes were complemented by earth, slate and stalks. It was a bit light in the mouth, however, displaying more one-dimensional slate and earth flavors (88).

Last and close to least was the 1981 Le Pin, which had a very gamy, almost horsy nose, definitely barny. The palate was too vegetal for the fruit to really show, but there was good character underneath it all, with flavors of cereal, milk and tomato (89).

There were lots of fun comments at the end. Jef wanted some ‘hip hip hoorays,’ but Ed chided him, ‘not yet!’ Neal Martin commented how Bordeaux and Burgundy are the world’s two greatest wine regions, and how he always flip-flops which region he prefers, and how he finds Le Pin to be in the middleof the two styles. He hailed the 2006 as the wine of the vintage. Paul took my handshake/kiss comment and called the first flight a handshake, the second a kiss, and the third ‘hot, sloppy, wet sex.’ Jef continued his budding winographic career with, ‘if you had to pour a red over your lover’s body, this would be it!’ For those of you on a budget, any Australian Shiraz will do lol.

It was an extraordinary weekend of Pomerol. People need to remember how special this region is.

In Vino Veritas,

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