Jan 01: One of the most sought-after and expensive red wines in the world, Le Pin is the original “garage” wine, so-called because it was made in the basement of a very plain farmhouse in Pomerol. Our guest writer Stuart George traces the history and how he is mesmerized by 1982, the most expensive and perhaps counterfeited vintage
The Le Pin property is so modest that it stops short of calling itself a “château” and is labeled simply “Le Pin”, named after a nearby pine tree. Le Pin inspired other “garagistes” on Bordeaux ’s Right Bank, such as La Mondotte, Château l’Hermitage, and Château Valandraud, but none has achieved the exceptional quality or price of Le Pin.
The Thienpont family are long-established Belgian wine merchants who also own Château Labégorce-Zédé in Margaux and other properties in the Côtes de Francs. More importantly, the family has owned Vieux-Château-Certan, which overlooks Le Pin, since 1924.
Jacques Thienpont, his father Marcel, and his uncle Gérard acquired Le Pin in 1979 for one million Francs (now equivalent to about €152,450 / INR13,701,848) from the widow Madame Laubie, who had always cultivated the 2.5-acre vineyard organically but sold the grapes as anonymous generic Pomerol.
By acquiring tiny adjoining plots of land, Jacques Thienpont has since doubled the size of Le Pin to five acres. The south-facing vineyards are on a well-drained slope of gravel and sand, planted mainly with Merlot and a small amount of Cabernet Franc.
With such miniscule vineyards, Le Pin produces just 5,000-6,000 bottles each year of super-concentrated, lush, sensual wine. As a point of comparison, Château Lafite Rothschild produces approximately 420,000-480,000 bottles annually. Even Le Pin’s Pomerol near-neighbour Pétrus manages about 30,000. The combination of extreme rarity and high international demand has created exalted prices – and counterfeits.
Of Le Pin ’s vintages to date, the most celebrated and expensive is the 1982, which was only the fourth vintage since the Thienponts acquired the vineyard in 1979.
It is not uncommon for the label of a bottle of 1982 Le Pin to be very mottled and damp-stained. Apparently, this was because the labels of the ’ 82 were printed in a fairly basic (garagiste!) manner, using inexpensive paper and inks. The glue that was used to adhere the labels to the bottles was also rudimentary and caused the labels to stain so much, even with only a couple of years of storage in a cool, damp cellar.
The image of two bottles of Le Pin – 1998 on the left and 1982 on the right – comes from my friend Frank Ward, who tasted (drank!) these two bottles with my former colleague Andrew Jefford in December 2013.
In 1985, Frank purchased a 12-bottle case of 1982 Le Pin – at that time an unknown Pomerol estate – for about £180 / INR17,920. Now it would be worth about £144,000 (over INR 1.5 Cr). The case was stored from 1987 in Frank’s cellar at his home in Kent, England, which was built by smugglers in the 18th century.
The label of Frank’s 1982 Le Pin is very damp-stained and mottled from spending 26 years in a naturally cool, dark cellar – perfect conditions for ageing fine wine. The bottle with the very blackened label is 1982 Le Pin from a private cellar in Shropshire, England, and is the blackest Le Pin label that I ’ve seen.
The same effect is seen on labels of 1983 and 1984 Le Pin, though these more unassuming vintages are rarely seen. By 1985 the problem was apparent and the paper and glue of Le Pin labels was changed from that vintage.
Taste of 1982
What does 1982 Le Pin taste like?
Re-tasting the wine 16 hours after it was opened in December 2013, Frank Ward wrote that “The nose is broader and earthier, with distinct hints of plum jam, blackberry, saffron, and cigar box. Absolutely no oxidation, but the truffle element is less pronounced today. Now it ’s more chocolaty, with an almost meaty aspect. There ’s even a suggestion of Christmas pudding. This is full and glyceriny and markedly Merlot. An altogether delicious wine in the hedonistic mode."
But remember: If you ever see a bottle of 1982 Le Pin with a perfectly clean label then it is probably a counterfeit!
Stuart George is a Founder and Managing Director of Arden Fine Wines in Mayfair, London and deals with fine wines-editor
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