Bordeaux Diary Part 3: Outsiders on the Right Bank – From Garage Wines to Single Vineyards and Respectability

Through the 1980s, it was outsiders, such as Jacques Thienpont from Belgium, or Jean Luc Thunevin from Algeria, who made the running in putting St. Emilion in the forefront of the news by upsetting the traditional order.

Tuesday: the heights of Pomerol. The tiny property of Le Pin is overshadowed by the huge pine tree that gave it its name. Jacques Thienpont, who comes here from his native Belgium, admits Le Pin may have been confused with (and have become a model for) the garage wines, but says that “we knew this was special terroir, wine was always made at the cellar here. It’s 100% Merlot, but I don’t have the power and richness of Pétrus, Le Pin is more elegant.” Then we go over to L’If in St. Emilion, where Jacques aims to repeat the experience of le Pin in another appellation. After lunch with Jacques and his nephew Cyrille, who manages L’If, on to another Thienpont family property, Vieux Chateau Certan, managed by Alexandre, who believes that the high proportion of Cabernet Franc is important in the character. “Instead of a monodimensional wine that is pure Merlot, the Cabernet Franc gives complexity… People are coming back to complexity.”

Dinner with Jonathan and Lynn Maltus at Chateau Teyssier. Since coming from Britain 20 years ago, Jonathan has built Chateau Teyssier into one of the larger properties in St. Emilion, but is now equally well known for his four single vineyard wines, which fall into two pairs. Le Carré and Les Astéries are 200 yards apart, but Le Carré is plush whereas Les Astéries is all tension. “This is the least Maltus-like wine I make; our other wines are accused of being North American in style.” In the other pair, Le Dôme actually used to be part of Vieux Chateau Mazerat, but “this is one of three garage wines that have become proper wines (the others are Valandraud and La Mondotte).”

Wednesday: Finished the day at Jean Luc Thunevin’s cramped offices in St. Emilion. The self-named bad boy of St. Emilion was inclined to philosophize on this occasion. The first garagiste has been very canny in turning Valandraud into a real chateau, with some vineyards in the eastern part of St. Emilion, but not surprisingly doesn’t bow to the god of terroir. “There are many cases where terroir hasn’t changed but people have variously made poor wine or great wine.”

Bordeaux is fairly regarded as closed: not very receptive to outsiders (at least not unless they come with very deep pockets) but here are three who have more than bucked the trend, in fact they have created a new trend towards expression of special sites and methods for achieving ultimate quality.

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