Terroir and the Art of Assemblage: Vieux Chateau Certan

by Chuck Hayward

Terroir and the Art of Assemblage: Vieux Chateau Certan

Post by Devon Magee | April 4th, 2012

Vieux Chateau Certan

2011 is decidedly not 2010 or 2009, yet from our week of intensive tastings in Bordeaux, it is clear that Pomerol is at the least, one of the standouts of the appellation and the vintage. Might cabernet franc play a role? According to Alexandre Thienpont, Vieux Chateau Certan’s owner and winemaker, yes. Here in the gravel and clay soils of Pomerol, fully ripe cabernet franc gives the wine a distinctive violet perfume. And for the first time in more than a decade, the variety ripened fully and uniformly. Its success in Pomerol is a defining characteristic of this singular vintage.

Tasting at Vieux Chateau Certan

At the top estates, we’ve noticed a higher percentage of cabernet franc along with a remarkably pronounced violet note. While  a  signature trait of Pomerol wines, the scent seems to take on wonderful extra depth  in 2011. VCC’s assemblage contains 30% cabernet franc, the highest proportion since 2000. In addition to aromatics, the variety adds acidity and structure, and at VCC (and some other Pomerol estates) where soft, gentle extraction was the order of the day for this cooler, extremely dry vintage, these are hallmark characteristics.

The best examples are elegant, silky, and sexy with enough acidity and structure to allow them to age for a long time. Says Alexandre of his 2011, “It is less easy to reach and more intellectual.” He compares a vintage centered on cabernet franc to haute cuisine. “Everyone likes barbecue, but haute cuisine needs more knowledge to appreciate.”

Alexandre calls 2011 a “typical Vieux Chateau Certan year,” and compares it to 2000, 1996, 1988, and 1983. Cabernet franc likes cooler ripening seasons (it languished in the heat of 2009 and 2010), can withstand drought, and thrives in a long, sunny fall. And in 2011, all four of these conditions materialized.

Talking terroir with Alexandre Thienpont

Although we still have dozens of tasting notes and impressions to digest, in my book, VCC 2011 could be a contender for wine of the vintage, as might Lafleur's offering - also in Pomerol and also predominantly cabernet franc.

Coincidence? Maybe. But Petrus, whose 2011 was also floral and simply ethereal, must be included in the conversation. The assemblage? 100% merlot. One of Right Bank consultant Stephane Derenoncourt’s partner's, Frederic Massie, offered a slightly different interpretation: “in Pomerol, it’s not necessarily the variety that expresses that floral character, but the terroir, whether it be cab franc or merlot.”

Team JJ Buckley with Alexandre Thienpont at VCC

Go figure. One thing is for sure – something unique and special happened in Pomerol in 2011.