Some great food, a handful of well-chosen bottles and a few close friends; what more could you ask for to make a pleasant lunch? As usual, Elystan Street was the venue, its generous PDR festooned with treats from the great Phil Howard. The wines – well, seeing as one of the guests was a certain Jacques Thienpont, founder of the great Le Pin estate and scion of this famous Bordelais dynasty – it seemed only fitting that we celebrate his family wines.
How did they stack up? Very well indeed is the simple answer. Here’s how it panned out.
What a ridiculous start. This surely has to be among the pinnacle of Pomerol experiences – a fine bottle from this triumphantly generous vintage, singing with pure plum and ripe strawberry, lifted by a whiff of white truffle and smoky warm earth. Utterly seamless in the mouth with a glycerol-rich mouthfeel quickly swept clean by whisper-thin but oh-so-clean acidity. The texture, oh, the texture. This one will stay with me. 2 points to spare for the possible improvement it faces with longer in bottle. 98pts
In a different developmental phase the 2000, this haunting ’90 has lost that flush of ripe fruit and moved firmly into the dried porcini, caramel and demi-glace phase on the nose. Fine minerality and real complexity. The palate again has this singular texture which allows it to float around the mouth, seemingly weightless and yet nuzzling into every possible flavour receptor. There’s more fruit here than the nose suggests, sweet and precise with soft-baked strawberry and damson, with that fine spine of acidity holding true. Military bearing, soft heart. 96 pts
2008 Le Pin
This was hustled across London at the last minute due to an administrative ‘oversight’ (even more potentially awkward considering it was from Jacques’ own home cellar) but you would never have known as it was absolutely singing. Majestic of structure but with a remarkably sweet edge to the chewy, dense tannins, it is only just starting to give up the goods. At almost 8 years of age it is still tightly wound with bright red fruits, ripe plum and damson confit. Its potential is certainly unrealised at this point; a Le Pin which will require a good few more years to really come into its own. But watch out when it does for it will be a thoroughbred dark horse. 96+ pts
2005 Le Pin
Anyone who leaves 2005 off a list of the great vintages of the past two decades is, frankly, an idiot who should not be allowed near the corkscrew, let alone the cellar. This is a mere baby, packed and stacked with intense, complex layers of aromatics – red cherry, plum, wild strawberry, blueberry, blood orange, tangerine, mango – then clove, followed by something smoky and hard to pin down. La terre parle. The intensity in the mouth is most surprising, albeit hugely appealing, then offset against the sad fact that there is one less bottle of this to reach its full potential. Citrus, ripe red fruit, baked earth, a hint of something mystical – black tea? Savoury and sweet, soft and nimble. Blind it could be a Grand Cru burgundy! Big tick. 98+ pts
1998 Le Pin
As with the 1990 VCC, here we have a wine happily into its second phase of life. The exotic fruit is still there but the crescendo of Asian spice, dried porcini and smoked, dried meat is definitely building. The beauty of this wine is its focus and precision, driven by the seam of acidity and incredible mineral characters, which carve a way through the complex fruit and umami structures that are still building as it matures. I don’t feel like we’re rushing this one: it’s drinking very well, although it has many more happy years ahead of it. 96+ pts
Well we weren’t expecting this one. Fully mature with smoked meat, baked mushrooms, white truffle, oiled leather and a smoky lapsang souchong note. The palate has rendered down to a soft, albeit remarkably precise mouthfeel which is driven by still-bright acidity and the vaguest presence of fully-melted tannins. There’s still fruit here, a whisper of plum and strawberry, but viewed through an antique lens. You’re tasting history here. Is it the best bottle of the lot? No, but it is the one I’ll probably never taste again, so it’s very special indeed. 95 pts
No need to say any more, really…
Huge thanks as ever to Phil and the team at Elystan Street and to Jacques for delving into his cellar.