Flash in Le Pin

Mar 12, 2007

Was it a dream? Did it really happen? For some reason, I find it almost hard to believe that on Saturday night, I drank every vintage of Château Le Pin ever bottled (1979-2004), and in Hong Kong no less. Hong Kong is on its way to becoming the London of the Far East as far as being the fine wine trading center for the region.

I am lucky enough to taste and drink Le Pin a few times a year—mostly from barrel or in bottle for reviews in the magazine, but also from generous wine collector friends, particularly those in Hong Kong. And it is a treat to try the wine every time. There’s something magical about the tiny-production pure Merlot which is produced a stone’s throw away from Trotanoy, Vieux-Château-Certan, Lafleur, Pétrus and other star estates in Pomerol. It has beautiful terroir. And it’s made in a simple garage under an old, rickety house.

About 500 cases of Le Pin are made each year. And bottles can sell for mind-boggling prices. For example, an Internet search for the 2005 shows that it trades for about $2,300 a bottle, and it’s still in barrel. The 1998, which I scored 100 points in official tastings for the magazine, trades for about $2,000, while the legendary 1982 goes for close to $5,000.

The obvious question is, is it worth the price? If you can afford it, YES. I can’t afford a 599 Ferrari, but I think it is worth the price. You get the idea. I always remain hopeful that I'll win the lottery, or that a long-lost cousin from Norfolk, England, will leave me the lost family fortune. More dreams ...

So, it was a dream fulfilled on Saturday to taste this range of Le Pin. And the wines were by and large fantastic. They were all in perfect condition. No fakes! In fact, I was surprised that the bottles that came from private cellars in Hong Kong were just as good as those that came directly from the château. The top collectors from the region included: Henry Tang, Peter Lam, Andrew Liu, Hendra Anwar, Raymond Hu, George Wong and Alexander Wong. Wine merchant Thomas Bohrer organized the event, as well as Jacques, Alexandre and François Thienpont. Jacques is the main owner of Le Pin. Alexandre also has a small interest and helps with the winemaking, in addition to making the wines of Vieux-Château-Certan. And François is a wine merchant in Bordeaux.

There were some big surprises, which I will write about later for the magazine as well as this blog. Probably the biggest one was the 2000, which was not quite up to scratch. I always had my doubts about it, scoring it 93 in the beginning. It seemed to be nearing its peak. The 2005 and 1998 were superior. The latter continues to be a 100-pointer. I also preferred the 2001 and the 2004 to the 2000. Alexandre Thienpont, the winemaker and part owner, agreed. In fact, he has always agreed that 1998 and 2001 are better than 2000. "It just doesn’t have the concentration that you would expect for the vintage,” he said.

The older vintages, particularly those from the 1980s, were very impressive. Even the off vintages such as 1980, 1984 and 1987 were holding on well. Who would think that Le Pin from years like that would still be good? Sure, the 1982 is sex in the bottle. And the 1989 and 1990 are bombshells. But for 1987, 1984 and 1980 to still be of good quality?

Even Jacques Thienpont looked a little surprised by the end of the tasting: “Wines are like children. You never know how they are going to end up. I am very surprised by some of these wines, especially those from the 1980s.”

I remember first drinking Le Pin when I was living in Paris in 1985 and 1986. Francois Thienpont brought a bottle to drink one night with some buddies from a wine bar and they were all giving him a hard time. They said it was a “flash in the pan” and that it was some gimmicky garage wine that would never be anything!

I bet they are eating their words now. Moreover, the tasting proves that Le Pin is gran terroir.

Crime Fraud France Bordeaux

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