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12/05/2015

Le Pin on Tour

by Guy Ruston - Managing Director (Hong Kong)

If the currency of blogs is self indulgence, then brace yourself for a big, fat cheque written out to excess and twoddle...

A tenuous link

I love my job but like most wine merchants, this was not my intended path in life. My teenage years were largely spent making a racket in friend’s garages, living rooms or occasionally in rehearsal studios (when we had the cash) trying desperately to be the next Led Zeppelin. Touring the globe with band mates was the dream. Sadly, the reality was that we were rubbish - although a couple of my old pals still maintain we were “ahead of our time.”

Fast forward to April 2015 and I finally got to live out my dream - well, a new dream - as winemaking genius and all round legend Jacques Thienpont, his old pal Gary Boom, and myself embarked on a mini ‘Le Pin’ tour of Asia. The best laid plans are often hatched over a good bottle, and this particular caper was no exception. Exactly a year in the making, this was, is and forever will be one of the unforgettable rock ‘n roll wine experiences of my life. Although no TVs were thrown out of windows (not that I’m aware of any way) and despite a sad absence of groupies, Jacques was not lacking in star power - autographing bottles, posing for selfies - and it was no surprise that his wines were absolutely rocking.

A bit of history

Purchased for one million francs in 1978, Jacques Thienpont, along with his father and uncle, became the proud owners of a small slice of Pomerol real estate. Amounting to little more than a shed and a couple of hectares of vineyard, what this estate has since become is one of the great ‘rags’ to riches stories in wine.

There is a mystique and enigmatic quality to Le Pin that very few wines possess. Its rarity (just 500-600 cases are produced annually), its cult following worldwide (which translates to some heady prices), its critical acclaim and humble origins have all contributed to the allure. Sold for roughly 11 francs a bottle to minimal interest, its debut vintage, the 1979, seems a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Now housed in a more modern winery (personally I quite miss the old shed), Jacques remains as humble as ever, indeed embarrassed by the success and following his wine now has. Given the age of the vines, some would argue that actually the best is yet to come from Le Pin.

An amazing lineup

And so to the events. All I’ll say is we drank very, very well with some great friends in some cool restaurants. Two weeks on, we’re still debating our favourite wines of the trip; indeed the ’09 vs ’10 debate is one that I’m sure will rage on for the next 30 years. 2009 vs 2010 Le Pin, what a dilemma!

Here are my top picks (it is my blog after all):

1990 Le Pin– By far the most exotic vintage and right now the most flamboyant. Sheer hedonism, this is a wine that brings a smile to your face. Beautiful, rich blackberry fruit, satin-like tannins and a finish that just goes on and on. Glorious now but should hold up nicely over the next 5-10 years+.

1998 Le Pin– The most consistent performer on tour, our three encounters with the ’98 were all good to seriously good. Plush, opulent fruit, perfect balance and a more understated swagger than the ’90, this is so good right now. Ready to drink now but it will still be going strong, long into the next decade.

2001 Le Pin– Adding more fuel to the fire that ’01 might be better than ’00 in Pomerol, ’01 Le Pin is off the charts. Approachable now but should be mind blowing in the next 5-10 years, it’s the vintage that has a bit of everything: the exoticness of ’82 and ’90, the power and concentration of ’09 and the classicism of ’05. Amazing stuff.  

2009 & 2010 Le Pin– As delicious as many Bordeaux’s ‘89s and ‘90s are to drink now, ’09 and ’10 is on another level altogether. This extraordinary brace of vintages, for me, is untouchable, in terms of great back-to-back years. Moreover in 2009 and 2010 Le Pin, you have potentially two of the greatest wines ever made, period. I love the rich, generous, up-front fruit of the ’09 but the sheer depth of the ’10 is truly something to behold. With over three decades in the wine business under his belt, BI’s Lindsay Hamilton knows his way around a great wine; to witness him so visibly moved, as he was by the 2010, speaks volumes. If you have the means of a rock star, you need these wines in your life.

A huge thank you to Jacques particularly but also to all those involved in this amazing tour.

As an aside if you don’t own a copy of Neal Martin’s brilliant Pomerol book, go and buy yourself one. The chapter on Le Pin is quite magnificent.

Jacques Thienpont:“How can you write so many words on such a little vineyard?”

Neal Martin.“True. But what a little vineyard it turned out to be.”

Here’s to you Jacques!