Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Vieux Chateau Certan, Pomerol, Bordeaux, France

Vieux Chateau Certan

Tasting and Visit with Monsieur Alexandre Thienpont

June 2010

Vieux Chateau Certan (VCC)
The roof of VCC peaking through the trees from the road.
     Saving the best for last is something I do when it comes to many things, for better or worse that is what happens sometimes. My wife interestingly has the opposite philosophy and that has allowed me to see the other side of that mind set. Her vision has allowed me to see writing my blog differently which has made my writing more efficient, productive and hopefully overall more entertaining and useful to my readers. Though I still write longer blog postings and not as many as my peers in the wine blogosphere in a given year, I put as much of me into my writings as possible. I have fiddled around with video, but to me it's not a medium that captures the wine lover. I get bored of almost all wine related videos rather easily. Many seem scripted and the subject robotic from the get go. The video medium in wine review and blogging has a long way to go to be considered entertaining.

I have arrived in the homeland of Merlot.

     To my point about saving the best for last, the following tasting is the last in the series of Bordeaux Chateau visits I made three years ago back in 2010, but is fresh in my mind as if it happened 3 months ago. Fresh that is except for the tasting notes I took, so apologies for the lack of some specifics. Three years later and a new iPhone lost me all of my tasting notes saved to my Blackberry. Therefore much of this is coming from memory and the impressions made that day. So bear with me as I try to relay the magic, beauty and history that is Vieux Chateau Certan.

     Vieux in French roughly translates to "old", and after reading the VCC chapter in "Pomerol" written by the Wine Advocate critic Neal Martin I completely understand now the meaning of VCC when you add the modern spelling of the property Sertan (Certan) which included the VCC property as well as its neighbor Certan de May.

     Back in 2010 fresh on the heels of a massively successful 2009 en Primeur campaign, I was in Bordeaux tasting wines from many vintages, but most consistently barrel samples from 2009 (not counting the 2007 UGC tasting of that very average vintage). Of all of the barrel samples tasted, Vieux Chateau Certan was one of my favorite of the trip, and my favorite appointment and Chateau experience of the entire trip. 

     I rose early to begin the track south from the outskirts of the Cognac region since we were staying at Chateau Mirambeau. The sun was bright, the air was clean and crisp, and the sun was high in the air by the time I got to Libourne on the edge of Pomerol. I even stopped at the same McDonalds that Wine Advocate writer Neal Martin so often mentions in his writings, but it was closed. So much for breakfast till 10am! I continued on heading east to Pomerol as the car wound through a few roads, cutting through the eastern edges of Libourne until I popped out into the vineyards of Pomerol's western edge. In minutes I was at the intersection of Certan and Certan, the white ornate signs telling me that I had arrived at the old Certan property, many years ago divided into Certan de May and my destination Vieux Chateau Certan.

Almost there, VCC from the road

     Arriving a few minutes early I sat in the waiting area a little nervous. I was on my own and did not know what to expect. This was one of the top Chateau in all of Bordeaux, not just Pomerol. Moments later Alexandre Thienpont exited his office and greeted me warmly.  Quite a tall man, Alexandre immediately puts you at ease when he greets you as his calm demeanor easily puts you at ease.  

Vintages 1996 and 2004

Welcome to the vineyards of VCC

Merlot vine at VCC

       After some small talk, the first thing we did was head straight to the vineyard so Alexandre could show me around the different plots and vineyard borders. Merlot dominates the plantings with Cabernet France the next most planted and a small, but prevalent Cabernet Sauvignon planting on more gravelly soils than the Merlot which is mostly on a combination of clay and gravel. The older vines were from plots that survived a great frost in the 50's with the rest replanted right after the frost and others planted in more recent decades. You can see the tall steeple of the landmark church that constantly towers high in the landscape as it is the tallest structure in miles. In one direction is Chateau Petrus, to which it shares a large portion of a soil phenomenon know as the clay button that makes up the whole of the Petrus vineyard. In another direction a neighbor is La Conseillante, and across the road is Certan de May, which a century and a half ago was part of the original property called Sertan, which roughly translates to "like a desert" (thank you Neal Martin).
Wooden fermentation tanks

     We moved into the chai ( aka the winemaking facility) where I was surprised to find gorgeous, pristine wood fermentation tanks. Most Chateau use concrete or steel these days in Bordeaux for initial fermentation but not at VCC. We then moved to the first barrel room that housed the newest vintage in barrel. It was small, but of course it should be, this is Pomerol where the properties are tiny and production is a fraction of the giant left bank chateau I had visited earlier on this trip. In the second barrel room lay more barrels with the most recent vintage. A barrel stood upright in the middle of the room with a few open bottles of wine to sample. My anticipation was bubbling over at this point as we were on the cusp of trying some magnificent wine.  The last 30-40 minutes learning about VCC and its sacred vineyards only heightened my excitement.

A sight to behold, 2009, 1996 and 2004 to taste.
     Open before me and Alexandre were vintages 1996, 2004 and the 2009 barrel sample. We started with the 1996, then progressed to the young 2004 and then the embryonic 2009.

     The 1996 was outstanding, one of the best wines I tasted the entire trip. I immediately searched to buy this vintage back home but the choices were few and far between. The few bottles I found the retailer told me were from a so-so lot of wines bought off the gray market and many were not drinking well so I decided to pass on buying them. I am still to this day searching it out! The nose, palate and finish were showing a wine that was past its young stage and well into the middle age of its life. Showing obvious hints of maturity, the wine was in great shape showing expressive and haunting notes that pulled the nose closer to the wine. On the palate I recall the finish lasting for quite a while with a silky and velvety finish, a trademark of well made Pomerol.

The Pomerol church steeple, a common sight from a spot of Pomerol

     The 2004 was less impressive, as some of you may know this is not a favorite vintage of mine. The wines in general lack the evenness and depth I prefer, though the tannins and structure were a good medium to full body on this 2004, the fruit trailing into a more medium body, with decent length and plenty of acidity.

     The 2009 was unlike anything I have ever had. It was an utter wall of fruit, tannin and texture. Practically impervious, dark in color, though it was dim in the chai so color was not exactly something I was evaluating. The aromas were pure, complex, and tightly compact. A lot of coaxing and air, about 30 minutes, and the wine started to unfold. I would have loved to have tried it that night or the next day. The palate was full bodied; solid as a rock, the balance was impeccable but this was not going to give it up to me easily.  Spectacular, I can't wait to try this out of bottle some day.

Beautiful wines, but I preferred the 1996

     We tasted these wines over the course of an hour. We talked through much of it while I also tried to take brief tasting notes on each wine. As I was getting acquainted with the wines I was also getting to know the man behind these wines. We talked about his visits to New York and other parts of the USA, as well as my minimal experience in France so far and the wonderful experiences and people we have encountered thus far on our tour through France. Alexandre is a gentle giant, that tends his vineyard with the care and love that a father has for his children. It shows in the wines and in the meticulous state of the vines that we walked through when we started our walk through the grounds. Since my visit I have purchased almost every vintage from 2008 and on and have my eyes set on a few older vintages when they become available in auctions.

Vieux Chateau Certan is a special wine, made from a special place, and made by a special man.

A biento! 


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