by Wine Owners
Posted on 2019-06-17
Neal Martin Score: 96-98
Price: £1,150 per 12
Vieux Chateau Certan (VCC) needs very little introduction and in recent years it has been shooting the lights out. Its reputation as a superstar is confirmed yet it still seems to be going from strength to strength. This is clearly attributable to the stewardship of the popular and modest Alexandre Thienpont. The last ten vintages have averaged a score of 96 – that is remarkable in itself.
We have identified the 2011 as an excellent opportunity to achieve exposure to this magnificent estate at a really attractive price level (only the disastrous 2013 vintage is cheaper, and only just). The wine came to the market at £1,075 per 12 in 2012 and is now £1,150. Post release the price slid to c.£950 before moving up by c.20% between the between ’16 and ’18. The weak Brexit pound was responsible for c. 10% of that and in the last eighteen months the price has barely moved.
There is a reason for the cheap price, it was a difficult vintage and Mr. Parker scored the wine with a paltry 91 points. We think he’s got it wrong – and so do many others. Neal Martin scores it 96-98, James Suckling and Tim Atkin 96 and James Lawther MW 19.
The 2009 and 2010 vintages Parker scored 99 points and were presumably a bit more in keeping with his tastes. These vintages contained no Cabernet Franc, even though the vineyards are planted 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2011 contains 29% Cabernet Franc and as Neal Martin comments “this is more what I consider to be a classic VCC nose, unlike those previous vintages (’09 and ’10) that gives you everything up front, this is far more intellectual and enigmatic.... and are perhaps one day, even better ”. Not bad at half the price!
This chart uses only Neal Martin’s scores – if you believe in the critic, the data does the rest of the talking for you:
2011 was not a great Bordeaux vintage and suffered as it came behind the (over- priced) blockbusters of ’09 and ’10. En primeur was not working at all at that time and to add to the woe, timing also coincided with the ‘Great Wall of China Corruption Clampdown’ meaning the market was already in an unusual state of flux.
Pomerol is widely regarded as the appellation of the vintage. VCC ’11 has been described by some as wine of the vintage and by others as wine of the right bank. Either way, a slice of a potentially great VCC for under £100 a bottle has plenty of upside potential. The ’10 and ’16 are both in excess of £220 a bottle.
Here are Nick Martin’s comments following a 2011 dinner last year:
Vieux Chateau Certan 2011 is the last vintage - prior to 2018 - with a substantial percentage of Cabernet Franc in the blend at a whopping 29%.
Alexandre Thienpont believes this to be a great vintage but in a less exotic, full-on style than 2010 or 2009.
Yet it remains properly intense and rich, thanks to low yields of 37 hl/ ha that contributed to a wine with a high IPT count of 83 (phenolics that give structure and colour...the guts of a wine), rivalling the IPT levels of producers’ wonderful 2016s. Furthermore it’s vibrant and mouthwatering with a conventionally fresh ph of 3.50.
Whilst initially tight, VCC 2011 unfurls with 3 hours in the decanter, has a beautifully harmonious mid palate that evolves in the glass quite dramatically, and sports a finish that goes on and on. It can be consumed with great pleasure at a leisurely pace now yet will continue to improve over the next 20 to 30 years.
Cedar, a medley of briar fruit and griottes, a vein of intensely fresh orange, mineral earthiness and background spice notes are elements of a kaleidoscopic tasting experience that segues between the myriad nuanced flavours and makes for a thril- ling experience.
Tasted comparatively with a dozen other top 2011 Crus, the only wine in the line up that got remotely close to VCC’s complexity and overall class was La Mission Haut Brion.
Neal Martin’s tasting note from the Wine Advocate:
The Vieux Chateau Certan was cropped between 6th and 7th of September and from 14th until 20th September. That's what you'll read everywhere, although I was filming Alexandre when he was picking the final Cabernet around the 29th September! Cropped at 37hl/ha, it is a blend of 70% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon and (yay!) 29% Cabernet Franc. It delivers 13.6 degrees alcohol with a total acidity of 3.5gms/L and an IPT of 83. After the Cabernet Francless 2009 and 2010, this is more what I consider to be a classic VCC nose and as Alexandre, unlike those previous vintages that gives you everything up front, this is far more intellectual and enigmatic with hints of mineral laden fruit, limestone and small dark cherries. It is beautifully defined yet distant. The palate is succinctly balanced with crisp acidity, exceptional balance and superb backbone. There is an undercurrent of masculinity, a saline tincture, cru- shed stone and a touch of dried herbs and yet these are just fleeting hints. It has enormous length and it is one of the very few that could be on the same ethereal plateau as the 2009 and 2010 and perhaps one day...even better. Tasted April 2012.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2018-04-11
Reflecting on day two, with the heady aromas of Pavie and co still flickering around our mouths, and a hard day's tasting behind us, we searched for patterns and rules. But, on reflection, there really is no rule that we can suggest.
©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners
An Unexpected Guest
Cabernet Sauvignon made an larger-than-usual appearance in several top wines we tried today, most noticeably Vieux Chateau Certan and Cheval Blanc. Typically, VCC contains just 1% Cabernet Sauvignon, but in 2017 that was increased to 5%. Although there was no overt Cabernet Sauvignon aroma profile in the wine, its freshness and focus almost certainly added to the completeness of the mouthfeel. Cheval Blanc is a quite different story; 2017 is the first vintage in many years that the wine will contain Cabernet Sauvignon.
©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners
Shining Examples of Franc
Cabernet Franc is absolutely not in the dog house in 2017, despite the general impression that it had a tough vintage. Three stand-out wines from today's line-up contained substantial levels of Cabernet Franc; Chateau Troplong- Mondot, Chateau Canon and Cheval Blanc's Petit Cheval. The former pair included around 25% Cab Franc, and Le Petit Cheval put on a blinding performance with a relatively massive 48%. So, while the variety may have had a very tough vintage in some parts of the right bank, it is showing admirably in others.
There is a lot of emphasis this week on The Frost (27th and 28th April 2017), and rightly so; it was absolutely devastating from some producers, and has had clear repercussions in their 2017 wines. But not all vineyards were affected, and some seem to have escaped entirely unscathed. Chateau Canon, for example, was almost completely untouched by frost. The wines are suitably excellent - refined, bright, tight and focused. Vieux Chateau Certan - our second tasting of the day - is another example of a winery seemingly undaunted by the frost. It tasted magnificent, silky and balanced this morning, all those tannins ago. But many of those right bank producers who did experience frost have found ways to produce good, and even excellent wines. Some adjusted the blend of grapes they use. Soutard is a fantastic and successful example of this; their 2017 is very good, and will be a great value buy when released. Their 2017 blend was 90% Merlot (significantly higher than the 65% normally used), with Cabernet Franc, Cab Sauvignon and Malbec making up the remaining 10%.
Chateau Gazin was untouched by frost, but the team there nonetheless felt that their Cab Franc wasn't quite up to scratch. They took the decision to boost their blend up to a fat 95% Merlot, resulting in a 2017 grand vin with a silky mouthfeel, great balance, and an enticing touch of kirsch dancing around on the nose.
On the left bank yesterday, the story was quite different. The frost was relatively indiscriminate there, affecting most vineyards to some extent. But here in the right bank, the hillier landscape allowed the freezing air to drain away from some places...and to gather catastrophically in others. Thus the distribution of frost damage was much more patchy here. Clay-based areas and lower-lying sites were obviously hit very hard by the frost. We do feel for those producers hit hardest - it was clearly not an easy vintage for them, and they face challenges ahead when the wines are released to market.
©Jonathan Reeve / Wine Owners
So the rule really is that there is no rule here. Which makes exhaustive primeurs tasting all the more valuable. Tomorrow (Wednesday) we head to Graves and Pessac-Leognon in the morning, to taste the Haut-Brion wines, and then on to Pape Clement and Malartic Lagraviere. We shall see if, and to what extent, the gravel soils helped mitigate the frost impact here...
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2017-11-24
The Don, St Swithins Lane, London, a converted wine warehouse, was the venue for one of Wine Owners tasting evenings offered to its members – Trial and Terroir Dinner based upon the 2011 Bordeaux vintage. The evening was conducted in one of the Don’s private rooms with an earthy dinner by head chef Frederick Forster.
Lionel Dougnac, buying director for De Luze & Fils, one of Bordeaux’s most influential negotiants, helped us navigate the properties surrounding the waters of the Gironde estuary. Lionel has been in the Bordeaux trade for over 20 years, specialising in buying classified growths. He has also worked for the top barrel-maker in France. Oaking became an interesting discussion point half way through the evening.
The focus for the evening was to explore the concept of terroir through the different wines presented during the evening from the 2011 vintage in Bordeaux. A vintage which left many enthusiasts wondering if the so-called ‘harlequin’ year could justify its high prices at primeur. Not surprisingly, there was immediately an exchange over what terroir might mean and during the evening there was plenty of opportunity to plumb the depths of this compelling subject. Lionel was quick to point out that, in his view, terroir was not just about the weather and soils but also included other factors, and even the ambitions of the domain owner.
2011: for those that might have forgotten, it was an unusual year by any standard. The year started with a massive water deficiency in the vineyards, and an unusually warm and protracted Spring. This meant that the vines were well in advance over the average year. Average temperatures during this period were close to if not in excess of any records previously recorded. It culminated in two extremely hot days in June where the temperature exceed 40°C. Some exposed bunches of grapes, especially on gravel soils, were scorched and losses were considerable, as much as 20% of the crop in some instances. If vignerons were concerned that any continuation of the drought would decimate whatever crop remained they needn’t have worried as damp, cool weather set in for much of July, followed by a very hot August. The heat precipitated some substantial downbursts and overall precipitation was above average for the period. An Indian summer followed which provided optimum conditions for the harvest in September. A series of circumstances which profited the white wines of the region but the red wines were heterogeneous.
L’Evangile vs Vieux Château Certan: the expression of the two first wines on offer provided an interesting contrast. The owners at VCC, the Thienpont family since 1924, have always worn their heart on their sleeve combined with an increasingly obsessive focus on managing the vineyard at a micro level of geography – and an ambition to let the terroir speak for itself using minimum intervention in the wine making. L’Evangile, now wholly owned by Domaines Barons de Rothschild since 1999 (they had earlier acquired a majority a shareholding) is a neighbour from ‘Haut-Pomerol’ with an ambition to become one of the top Pomerol estates. The latter’s substantially higher Merlot in the blend offered a very round and pleasing profile – a whopping 94%, leaving little room for their Cabernet Franc. It was very elegant and restrained which contrasted with the beautifully defined structure of VCC. There were pleasing elements in both wines. Interestingly, guests were not to be tempted by the more voluptuous offer and unanimously preferred the ‘aesthetic values’ expressed in Vieux Château Certan 2011.
In Pessac, the contrast was even more stark. Haut-Bailly, as always, attractive and feminine, seduced much of the company with its approachable elegance based on a more merlotised style than usual - a statistical recognition, if nothing else, that its Cabernet Sauvignon suffered that year. The Cabernet Franc, already on the way out at the domain, hardly got more than a top-up role. Haut-Bailly have always acknowledged that their terroir has issues under dry conditions such as those experienced in 2011. La Mission Haut-Brion was altogether more muscular and intense. It possessed a complex tension which will be years in its evolution. Lionel had obviously selected the wines he felt would give us more to ponder. We digressed into a conversation about how artists’ materials are perhaps the elements of physical terroir; that artistic genius is the inspiration, imagination and ambition of an estate’s terroir interpreted by the owner. Whatever the canvas that year, Wine Owners terroirists’ marginally preferred the more ‘traditional’ yet polished properties expressed in the intense muscularity of La Mission Haut-Brion 2011.
The grand estates of Pauillac were represented by Pontet-Canet and Château Pichon-Longueville Baron. This gave us an opportunity to discuss the influence of biodynamic viticulture in the region and its impact on the wines of Pontet-Canet. Clearly something had separated the processes of these two estates which are largely comparable in terms of size and varieties. When it came down to it, Pichon Baron managed 82% Cabernet Sauvignon in their blend, whilst Pontet-Canet a mere 60%. Yields were disparate too – 39% in the case of Pichon Baron whilst at Pontet-Canet it was 32%. It’s worth just quoting from the specification sheet of Pichon-Baron 2011 to understand properly the enormous lengths châteaux had to go to preserve the quality in the bottle:
“Bespoke grape picking: the grapes were picked and brought in the vat-house plot by plot, in order of maturity, with particular attention to selection on the plots. Sorting in the vat-house was highly meticulous [their bold] keeping only the very best grapes. The grapes were sorted twice, both before and after de-stemming. Once de-stemmed, the selection of the grapes was fine tuned on two sorting lines, one manual and one using optic systems.”
This extensive and costly work appears to have been justified as the assembled company substantially preferred this wine. Perhaps the more laissez-faire practices of biodynamics don’t favour complicated years albeit it may be a more ‘authentic’ product.
Our final flight of the evening ended with a cheese plate and perhaps two of the most interesting wines of the evening – Chateaux Montrose and Calon-Ségur. Both estates in their own ways have seen major upheavals over the last 5-10 years. One could even be forgiven for thinking that terroir might the servant of the ambition of the two new owners. Certainly, the Bouygues have invested colossal sums in an estate which they were always destined to own. The recent vintages have all demonstrated that their terroir has justified the trust of its billionaire owners producing wonderful wines in supposedly less good vintages. 2011 was no exception. Montrose’s enhanced ‘environmental responsibility’ which the Bouygues have brought to the estate extends the work of one of its founders, Mathieu Dollfus, who established a programme of social care for his workers building them free housing in the ‘Montrose village’, included them in profit sharing and even offered free health care – making ‘unique contributions to the community’ of Saint-Estèphe. The windmill which stands on the property is a ‘symbol’ of his tenure and his fight against phylloxera – the windmill drew up water which flooded the vineyards – a practice which had some success in reducing the disease at the time. At Calon-Ségur, despite the death of its owner at harvest time, pulled off a stunning wine - contradicting received wisdom about yields (the estate had one of the largest yields of all the wines tasted) and demonstrated that even in turbulent times estates can pull something out of a hat. Triumph in adversity is part of the story of Bordeaux. Opinion was equally divided on their relative merits.
Lionel’s deft commentary on the wines permitted discussions on all other matters of interest to the guests. This wasn’t just a working evening – although there was much to delve into.
The evening conversation turned to a brief but informative discussion about the commercial prospects of ‘La Place’, advantages or otherwise of buying en primeur and discussions on some practices of specific châteaux to release wines as ‘library’ wines after primeur campaigns - subjects which Lionel was uniquely qualified to explain.
For those still with the will to carry on tasting there was ample opportunity with additional samples as backup. Overall, the unscientific assessment was that there were 3 stand-out wines – La Mission Haut-Brion 2011, Montrose 2011 and Vieux Château Certan 2011.
Broader definitions of terroir escape the confines of the tightly worded official description. The Australian economist David Throsby outlined the concept of a ‘cultural good’ (in his seminal book Economics and Culture, 2001) which might fit better to the breadth of considerations Lionel managed to convey during the evening. Throsby’s thesis is that a person’s preference for something would be based upon the characteristics of the good which contribute to its cultural value. Some of these are highlighted above in quotes but, in summary, they include aesthetic properties eg elegance and balance; spiritual value – emotional and inspirational attachment; environmental which includes PDO (L’Appellation d’origine protégée) and environmental responsibility; historical – evolution and tradition; symbolic, such as the name of ‘Bordeaux’ itself and what it inspires and among others one might conjure; and authenticity which is embodied in the unique character of a wine drawn from the local area where it is produced.
The WineOwners Trial and Terroir Dinner managed to elucidate these concepts and more.
by Wine Owners
Posted on 2015-03-01
Today's excellent Matter of Taste event at the Saatchi gallery put on by the Robert Parker organisation highlighted to me that wines from so-called vintages overshadowed by great vintages may give far superior early to medium term pleasure than those more illustrious, fêted siblings.
Thinking back a year or so to previous tastings, Pontet Canet comes to mind. Take your pick from 2002, 2004 or 2006 for wines which today deliver great visceral pleasure (although the latter vintages are youthful) - whether you favour asian-spiced, sweetly grained and plump or delineated and pure fruit the choice (and preference) is yours. The dual powerhouses of 2009 and 2010 are incredibly dense wines, but today seem brutalistic and impregnable. Impressive as hell, they remain ébauches that Time, the master craftsman, is yet to shape.
A wonderful Masterclass led by Neal Martin and Alexandre Thienpont, winemaker and proprietor of Vieux Chateau Certan, further illustrated the point.
The surprise of the tasting was Vieux Chateau Certan 2006, which preceded the 2005.
A composed, peppery and dark-scented nose announced a medium weight, finely-woven, textured wine. Beautifully integrated, showing a firm core coated with a fine, sweet gloss, and a medium-long, insistent finish.
A delight to drink now, whilst giving the warmer, controlled, classically sauvage (iodine/ meaty) character of the 2005 another 5-10 years to achieve its unquestionable potential. In contrast the 2006 has an elegance and purity all of its own, and at a 20% discount to the 2005.
It's worth looking out for 'VCC' 2006 on the back of this showing. It's equally tempting to seek out more 2006s more generally, a vintage that had garnered some good reviews at first release, but which suffered in comparison to the more successful 2005 vintage across the Bordeaux region and due to release prices that were far too close to those of the previous year. Now almost a decade on, the fine, compelling character of the year is clear, and the pricing looks very fair.
Martin highlighted that Pomerol and St Emilion had enjoyed a particularly successful vintage in 2006. With that in mind, you may wish to check out the fine wine exchange for the following:
The wine of the 2006 vintage, Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson both proposed (in a rare show of unanimity), was Mission Haut Brion. Surely the price will never be as realistic as it is today, at around £1,250-1,350? (55%+ down from it's idiotic opening price that proved to be damaging to its secondary market performance). At least now this great wine is within reach of more wine lovers.
Mission Haut Brion
A somewhat under-the-radar La Mission, the 2006 was generally overlooked following the brilliance of the 2005. A young, dense purple-hued wine that is developing beautifully, it exhibits notes of Asian plum sauce, charcoal, barbecue smoke, roasted meats, graphite and background oak. Full-bodied with good acidity, moderate tannin and a vigorous, powerful youthfulness, the 2006 will age more quickly than the 2005, but it still requires another 5-8 years of cellaring. Anticipated Maturity: 2014-2035. (RP 2012)