I am writing this while huddled on a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong for what is expected to be “the” tasting of the year – every vintage of Château Le Pin ever produced. Owner Jacques Thienpont and his two cousins, François and Alexandre, are coming as well. Most of the wines are from the cellars of some of the greatest wine collectors on earth, and they are all in Hong Kong.
There is a “warm up” tasting and diner of Vieux-Château-Certan, another Pomerol favorite of mine, when I arrive on Thursday with some ancient Pomerols for a dinner on Friday. The Le Pin tasting is on Saturday. So stay tuned.
I can’t think of a sexier wine than the pure Merlot Le Pin. In a hot vintage such as 1982, 1989, 1998, 2000, and 2005 it has a rich, almost decadent opulence, but there’s always a refined and sleek freshness to the wine that begs you to drink it. This wine is beautiful at every stage of its evolution, from a few months in barrel to years in the bottle. It combines a fabulous richness of fresh fruit and ultra-ripe tannins. It is hedonistic yet classy at the same time.
I have written this before, but here is some background information about Le Pin. The slightly less than five-acre property is located just a stone’s throw from such greats as Pétrus, Certan de May, and Vieux Château Certan--so the greatness of its soil and microclimate needs no explanation. What may be surprising to many is that Le Pin was first produced in 1979, making it a relatively new winery, considering its names have been around since the late 1800s. It was the original “garage wine” and is still produced in a tiny, low-tech winery that would be hard-pressed to hold two compact Renaults with the door closed. Only about 500 cases are produced each year.
Prices are mindboggling for Le Pin. I think the 2005 sells for about $2,000 to $3,000 a bottle, and it’s still in barrel. The 1982 can sell for double that. Is it worth it? I certainly couldn’t afford to buy it. But if money is no object, a great bottle of Le Pin takes your breath away. It reminds me of love at first sight ...
Meanwhile, I just met a man on this flight named Richard Lees, from Culver City, California. He is traveling with his wife to HK, en route to Australia, for a two weeks of wine tasting and touring. What fun, I thought to myself. I had noticed that he was reading Cigar Aficionado, so I struck up a conversation.
He said that he had about 450 bottles at home that he rotates on a regular basis. “Rotating is what wine is all about,” he said. I liked him right away.
Anyway, he said that he was buying mostly Syrah from California, with some Zin as well. And he was getting into Australian wines. “California Cabernets have become too expensive,” he said, adding that he just couldn’t justify their prices anymore, although that is what he had been drinking for many, many years. I feel for him. I find the same problem when I am in the States. You don’t seem to get a lot for $100 with California Cab (unless you are on the right mailing list or have some other inside way of buying).
Interestingly, he said the same thing about Bordeaux. He was in his late 40s, at least that’s what I guessed, and he said that he didn’t buy much Bordeaux anymore. “I remember buying excellent wines in the 1980s, like Meyney, and they didn’t cost more than $10 a bottle or so.”
I told him to check out my cover story in the recent issue of Wine Spectator on “50 Great Bordeaux for $50 or Less.” I said that plenty of good bottles from Bordeaux are available at excellent prices, and that they deliver all the Bordeaux character he could hope for. He didn’t look convinced.
“I thought that after you leave the top level of Bordeaux, there is a great drop in quality?” he said.
My heart sunk.
“No. Not at all. There are many excellent producers in Bordeaux who are working as well as the top names in the region in their cellars and vineyards,” I said. “Try some.”
I felt sort of guilty telling him that as I was flying to a tasting of Le Pin. But it’s true. You don’t have to drink Le Pin to enjoy great Bordeaux.
Steven Balavender — Tampa, Fl — March 8, 2007 8:50am ET
Guus Hateboer — Netherlands — March 8, 2007 10:29am ET
Massimo Marinucci — Pound Ridge, NY — March 8, 2007 12:46pm ET
Glenn S Lucash — March 8, 2007 4:11pm ET
Thomas Matthews — March 8, 2007 4:31pm ET
Lorenzo Erlic — victoria canada — March 8, 2007 4:47pm ET
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — March 8, 2007 7:36pm ET
Johnny Ng — Hong Kong — March 9, 2007 2:05am ET
Guus Hateboer — Netherlands — March 9, 2007 3:20am ET
Laurie Woolever — New York — March 9, 2007 7:50am ET
Ralph Michels — The Netherlands — March 10, 2007 8:07am ET
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