Vieux Château Certan's 100th Tasting

When Jacques announced that he wanted to organise a vertical tasting of Vieux Château Certan in our family home at Hof te Cattebeke, we realized that this would be an historic event. Many of the wines until the 1960s had been transported to Etikhove in barrel by rail and bottled in our cellars and had not moved since then so the provenance was impeccable. With time and research, and a little help from family and friends, we managed to assemble 58 vintages and we invited a small group of international journalists to join us as we opened the wines over a two-day period.

Grandfather Georges Thienpont bought Vieux Château Certan for his wife, Josephine, in the Spring of 1924. Afterwards, he announced to the family “I am going to rejoin my chateau in ruins”. It was his second purchase on the Right Bank of Bordeaux, having purchased Château Troplong Mondot in Saint Emilion in 1921 (and having to relinquish it in 1934 after three harvests with no wine to sell and an economic crisis raging around the world). The 14 hectares of vineyard have remained virtually unchanged since the purchase, except for a tiny plot of 11,48 ares that Alexandre added later.

We decided to serve the wines in three series starting with the wines of the 21st Century made by Alexandre (vintages1986-2011) and his son, Guillaume (vintages 2012 -). The second series was the Great and Personal wines ranging from 1946 to 1988, made by three generations of Thienponts (Georges, Léon and Alexandre) and served during a fabulous dinner created by Nicolas Nuyens to match the wines. The final series was the 20th Century Wines (again made by Georges, Léon and Alexandre) which ranged from 1923 to 1999).

Judging on the delicacy of the older vintages, we poured the oldest wines in each series first so that we could appreciate their subtleties. This was especially important in the second series which was comprised of the greatest vintages of VCC interspersed with the vintages of the birth years of all the guests present, which included several “off” years. This added a touch of fun to the tasting since it is often the mark of a great domain if it can show well in poor years.

It was an historic and humbling tasting experience, especially with the older vintages which were made in the most rudimentary manner compared to today’s sophisticated wine methods. So often external factors, especially war and economic crisis tested the family’s resources. The vagaries of the climate and frequent diseases - frost, hail or rain leading to mildew, oidium and rot, - could dash the hopes of the vigneron and without temperature or oxygen control, grape analysis or mechanization, care and attention in the cellar were the only hopes of saving a harvest. The tasting represented not only a century of wine making but a century of careful stewardship of Belgian’s most famous international wine. Today, Vieux Château Certan is esteemed and loved throughout the world and its elegant and fresh style make it one of the leading wines of our times. Long may this continue.

For those of you who are interested in tasting notes, here are mine, in order of the three tastings from the oldest to youngest vintage where I prefer to rate the vintages with stars (0 to 5) than trying to assign a score out of one hundred for each wine.

For those who are not interested in tasting notes, my top vintages were: 1945, 1947,1948, 1955, 1964, 1966, 1983,1990, 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2019 with great surprises in: 1923, 1928, 1940,1953, 1961,1971,1996, 1999, 2004, 2011, 2012, 2017.

Special thanks should go to Alexander De Raeymaeker and Georges Thienpont for acting as our sommeliers for the tastings.

Fiona Morrison M.W.
June 2024

Series 1 :  21st Century: Thursday afternoon 6th June


The particularly mild, rainy start to the year resulted in early bud breaking in the vines. The weather remained changeable until July. 2000 proved to be difficult for growers, from winter until the beginning of the summer, requiring constant, painstaking attention to the vines.  There was lots of mildew and the harvest was saved in June. 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2000 has all the qualities of a great, classic vintage. Like the 1996 vintage, it offers a wide range of aromas, where toasted fragrances serve to enhance the bouquet of raspberry, blackberry, and liquorice. Particularly marked by the Cabernet Franc (20% in the final blend), it is deliciously generous on the palate with a remarkable aromatic intensity. Beautiful garnet colour, showing some age, spicy and lively on the attack but lovely balance. Broadens out on the palate to show fresh spice, balsam, dark fruit flavours, some orange peel, truffles and a vein of fine tannin running through the spine of the wine. Very Cabernet Franc. Good energy at the end. Drinking very well for another decade.  ****




Winter 2001 was marked by very mild and rainy weather, resulting in early bud break. The warm weather at the beginning of May led to even flowering during the last week of the month with an impressive vigour of the vines at that stage. The hot, dry weather from the second half of July tempered the vigour and triggered a slow, well- balanced ripening of the grapes. September was bright and sunny. Harvest began on September 20th. Blend: 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2001 vintage is an excellent year. The wine is compact, combining roundness and depth. It is a complex, well-balanced vintage, with that perfect combination of great maturity and appealing liveliness. Luscious and athletic, it is considered as one of the best Vieux Château Certan vintages. Darker and more intense in colour than the 2000, precise and fresh on the nose with rather nutty aromas, very intense dark fruit and dark chocolate, spice and energy mid-palate with fine structure. Good expression of Merlot this year. So sensual. A vintage which looks forwards whereas 2000 looked backwards.  Lovely abiding freshness and energy on the finish. Could last for at least another 30 years. *****




70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Made in the blockbuster era but showing the elegance of VCC. From winter to the start of summer, 2002 was marked by mild temperatures and moderate rainfall, with an early budburst in the vines in March followed by an even flowering at the end of May. After a very sunny June, July and August were cool and rainy. Fortunately, fine weather set in from 9 September. Harvest took place between 20 September and 2 October.

Dark russet red colour, quite rich, chocolate, balsam, some mushrooms, spice, backbone of tannin, not much fruit but round and pleasing and well-made. Good spice and length with good balance and smoothness. Better than the reputation of the vintage. Drinking beautifully now but could last well for another decade.  “Smiling Merlot” said Alexandre Thienpont when everyone had already dismissed the vintage. A pretty surprise. ****




70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc. Bottle came from Bordeaux this morning! The weather in 2004 described as “benign” with no drought or excessive heat or cold. August, however, was complicated with humid, warm and cloudy weather. Sunny September saved the vintage. Picking started on 20 September.

Like the 2000, the Vieux Château Certan 2004 is an extremely classic wine, markedly Cabernet Franc, remarkable for its balance, concentration and wealth of aromas. Quite dark intense colour but showing some age on the orange rim. Good spice and intensity on the attack with sweet fruit, plums, some oak and an attractive truffle flavour riding the tannin to the end. 30% Cabernet Franc here which lifts up the wine and adds levels of complexity. Lovely rather exotic finish on the end of the palate. Could keep a decade longer. Lovely surprise.  ***




A vintage of outstanding quality in a dry year from winter to autumn, with hot and sunny weather at the end of spring through summer, which never developed into a heat wave. The ripening began early and went smoothly. Right up to the picking, the fine, sunny days and cool nights enabled the berries to gradually build up concentration of colour, sugars, fruit and aromas. Picking started on September 12th. Blend 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc.

2005 can be compared to 1989 as well as other outstanding vintages. It has a great balance between aromatic freshness, acidity, concentration and tannic richness. It shows great Merlot character (80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc) with a lovely expression in the nose, open, fresh and full of good Merlot fruit and a touch of mango exoticism. A great Pomerol. Typical VCC On the palate the wine is fresh, with quite serious  intense tannins. Good depth and tension on the finish and a very long reverberation. Freshness persists. Lots of life ahead.  *****




The beginning of 2006 was cold, causing a slight delay in bud-break. A dry spring with a successful flowering. July was extremely hot with a halt in vine vegetation growth. Cool, overcast August weather. During the first ten days of September, favourable weather conditions set in for the completion of ripening. Harvest began September 12th. The blend was 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.

The high quality of Vieux Château Certan 2006 displayed in its fruit, finesse and pedigree makes it one of the estate’s truly outstanding vintages. It is very close to the 2005 but with a more suave style. Dark, intense crimson colour with some garnet reflections. Good sweetness and ripe fruit in the nose with the lifted red fruit character of the CF (25%). This is a super vintage with lots of power and very typical of VCC. There is a ripeness here, but they lost 1/3 of the harvest to rot. It was worth the wait to reach maximum maturity; the wine has lots of lovely layers of fruit and tannin which are so impressive. Can last for at least another 20 years. *****




Mild and dry during winter, followed by a relatively wet spring. After mixed weather during the summer, a cool, dry atmosphere, favouring slow ripening and the preservation of fruit aromas in the grapes, delayed picking dates until the 28th of September. The final blend was 65% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.

With excellent colour, fruit flavour, aromatic expression and texture, the 2008 showed very promising potential. Small crop of 34 hl/ha. The 2008 is a vintage with complexity and great length. A classic Vieux Château Certan, i.e. very Cabernet Franc, just like the 2006. Quite a shy nose, sweet and precise on the palate with good red fruit and rosehips. Composed and balanced on the palate, with firm tannins and a good acidic expression of Cabernet Franc. Ripe fruit balanced by a traditional structure. Classic Pomerol. Pure VCC. ****




A cold winter and a superb spring, with an even and early bud burst. A hot and dry summer, enabling healthy ripe grapes but with a small crop. Heavy rain one week before harvest enabled the grape skins to complete ripeness and increasing the potential crop size. Blend: 88% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. Yield 40 hl/ha.

2009 is concentrated and warm without being powerful. The Merlot was balanced, rich, and smooth with class. The small amount of Cabernet Franc was fine and ripe, complex, packed with flavour and long on the palate. The Cabernet Sauvignon was lively and delicious; even the small amount, brought freshness to the final blend. The blend of 2009 VCC is similar to 1998. Regarded as a perfect vintage, the wine is dark and bright in colour with a full, quite generous texture. Really good mature Merlot fruit with intensity and spice and lots of tannic vigour and freshness. This a big wine, bigger than many VCC’s – virile and expansive, silky and juicy. Fresh and generous in the finish. Still tasting young. A gorgeous wine with at least 25 years ahead of it. ****




Everything came together perfectly to make the vintage a success. Cool and sufficiently wet winter. A bright and sunny start to the spring with a fast and even budding. Summer was hot and dry with cool nights but at the end of the growing season there was substantial water deficit in the soils. A concise year, with low yields: small berries that were well nourished by perfectly healthy vine canopies with maximum photosynthesis. Yield 35 hl/ha. Blend: 86% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon.

2010 is ripe, tannic and balanced with great fruit and acidity. The Merlot is dense, vinous, suave, and full of class. The smaller proportion of Cabernet Franc is lacy, ripe, complex and lingers on the palate. The Cabernet Sauvignon is lively and delicious, even in a small proportion, it brings the necessary freshness. This was the last vintage that Alexandre made on his own. Very dark, youthful and glossy, lots of glycerol and power.   Ripe, intense blackberry fruit, sweet and gorgeous. There is perfect balance mid-palate with great intensity and layers of fruit, tannin and acidity. Really a baby but this is classic VCC with a modern touch. A star. Has at least a decade or two ahead of it. *****




Cool, dry weather during winter. Summer-like weather settled in from April. Perfect flowering and a fine, dry summer followed. An early harvest and a balanced wine with reasonable alcohol level. Small berries, rich in tannins and anthocyanins, were carefully sorted. Merlot provided great finesse, body and pedigree but the Cabernet Franc, with its wonderful complexity, ripeness, density and lovely length, gave the character to this vintage. Harvest began September 6th. Blend: 80% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon.

The blend and the tannic balance in the 2011 is like the excellent 1983 and 1988 vintages, renowned for their long-ageing character. A beautiful Pomerol with a cashmere texture that is one of the wines of the vintage. Licorice, spice and dark chocolate on the nose. On the palate it is very silky and long, with good tension and quite fresh tannins. This is a linear wine with lots of spice, some earthy flavours and good intensity. Linear, sleek and elegant. Long, fresh and energetic in the finish.  Drinking beautifully now for at least 20 years.  A real sleeper!  ****




Typical Bordeaux vintage: a cold and dry winter and a cool and wet spring led to an early reduction in the crop. A hot and dry summer, low yields and meticulous grape selection allowed for an even ripening process. The grape skins remained thick until late in the season, so waited for full ripeness. The late harvest began on October 1st and finished on the 11th, just hours before heavy rains set in. The risks were worth it.

The Merlot was ripe and opulent, the Cabernet Franc brought delicacy and complexity. Blend: 87% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2012 reflects the estate’s terroir which, in a demanding climate, produces some really fine wine.   Elegant with precise tannins and energy, this is one of the best wines of the vintage.

Intense, dark crimson colour, youthful, very fresh on the attack, blackberries and sloes, very autumnal and late harvest. This has forthright tannins, an abiding freshness, some vegetal and elegance. I like this wine. It is not austere, but it is quite classic and vertical.  The linear quality makes this really elegant. Could wait a few years for this. ****




70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc. Mild and wet start to the season, then fine weather mid June allowing even flowering. Scattered stormy periods, then consistent summer sunshine from the end of August until the harvest. De-leafing was necessary on the west side of the rows in order to enhance ripening one week before harvest.

The glorious Indian summer led to excellent Cabernet Franc bringing delicacy, excellent length and flamboyance to the wine. The Merlot is rich, perfumed and round adding attractive liveliness. 2014 displays many facets: a balance between freshness and roundness and between fruit character and length of flavour. It is charming and delicious of a little too acidic. Drink over the next 20 years. ***




Blend is 80% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. But what distinguishes this wine is its high alcohol of 15°. Soft and round in the nose a slightly kirsch red cherry character. A little over sweet and a bit jammy, it loses some of its VCC character. Rather a warm, high-octane finish and Alexandre calls this “an easy drinking barbeque wine. Drink over next 15 years.




A year of climatic contrasts. A mild winter followed by a rainy spring, restored the water reserves, enabling the vines to cope well with sunny and very hot weather until late in the growing season. Thanks to a few rare days of fine weather in mid-June, the flowering was quick and even and predicted a good crop size (40 hl/h). Excellent grape health meant that harvesting dates could be delayed. The vines benefitted from a few rain showers which enhanced ripening. The old vines produced wines with deep colour, concentration and balance. Blend: 85% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2016 has a deep, ruby hue of exceptional intensity and reveals aromas of black fruit and cherries. Velvety, seductive and delicious: all the traits of a great, long-ageing vintage. The palate is marked by ripe fruit with lots of merlot character which is exuberant and charming. On the palate the wine is silky and ripe with good fresh and ripe tannins which give a welcome lift to the wine. Round and intense, quite dense and round with good concentration. Charming and a gastronomic wine. Drink over the next 30 years. ****




80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Much less touched by the 2017 frost than its neighbours. A cool, dry winter followed by a mild, rainy spring ensured an early, even budding. Summer-like temperatures around 20th May triggered a very quick flowering. High temperatures and humidity in June led to vigorous vine growth. The vines’ good health, since the beginning of the growing cycle, continued with the fine, hot and dry summer weather. Harvest started 12 September.

Here we are back in VCC. Very Merlot character with ripe red fruit and a lovely sweetness of raspberry coulis. Minty, spicy, licorice and dark chocolate on the attack.   There is abiding freshness here and an elegant line of fresh crunchy tannin a certain class and florality which is very attractive. Although this is not a very ripe year, this wine is batting above the vintage’s average. There is life to go here but this is already very drinkable and will provide lots of pleasure over next 20 years. Sadly overshadowed by 2019 and 2020. ****




70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc. The first half of 2018 was marked by mild temperatures and heavy rainfall. At the end of May, after optimal flowering, a hot and dry summer set in for a long period. Water reserves, built up over the spring, enabled the vines to cope with the severe drought during the summer. The old vines, their vigour slowed by this drought, produced deep-coloured, concentrated wines.

The fully ripe Merlot brought all its strength to the wine, ensuring a stable base at blending. The Cabernet Franc, present in its totality this year, enhanced the blend through its velvety texture and excellent length contributing pedigree. The 2018 exhibits a deep crimson hue of rare intensity, beautiful aromas of ripe fruit and violets. Its balance between freshness and ripeness enables all the qualities of a great long-ageing vintage to shine over the next 30 years or so. ****




Everything contributed to the success of the vintage. A sufficiently cool and rainy winter. A fresh and sunny spring. Throughout the summer, a gradual water deficit before veraison and dry, sunny weather with cool nights enhanced the aromatic potential. Welcome light rain showers from September 22nd allowed the vines to rehydrate and complete the full grape ripeness. Harvest began September 23rd. Blend: 78 % Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon.

A ripe, tannic wine with fruit character and well-preserved acidity with superb balance. The Merlot contributed density, body, smoothness, volume and breed. The Cabernet Franc showed a lacy elegance and was complex, full and long on the palate. The Cabernet Sauvignon was lively and delicious, it brought an indispensable touch of freshness to the blend. 2019 can be compared with the 2009 with its  glossy colour, sweet and fresh with lots of floral notes of hawthorn and almond blossom. There is beautiful balance here. Lovely intensity, black fruit flavours, a touch of truffles, some oak and typical Pomerol generosity. A baby still but there is so much concentration and layers of flavour and great energy from the very old vines. Seems effortless but this balance is remarkable. Classic VCC. Don’t touch for at least another 10 years: 2035-2065 Splendid! *****




85 Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc. Alexandre Thienpont thinks it’s like 1947! ‘A striking contrast between a rainy winter and a long, dry and often hot summer … Early harvest with low yield of 30 hl/ha. No Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend this year because of drought. Harvest began 14 September.

The Merlots were intensely aromatic, dense, full and with great class; they mark this vintage. The Cabernet Franc, with its small, concentrated berries, produced a smooth-textured wine of amazing complexity and length. 2020 is a radiant wine and displays a deep purple red hue of rare depth and beautiful aromas of ripe fruit. It’s remarkable balance between freshness and concentration enables all the qualities of a great long-ageing wine to shine through. At the moment it is a bit adolescent but when it ages, this will be one of the great VCC vintages ever as it has balance, complexity and the typical VCC character of freshness and elegance. There is an intellectual character of this wine which makes one want to dig deep here. Alexandre compares this with the 1945. So impressive and wait 20 years. *****

Serie 2: Great and Personal Wines: served with Thursday night Dinner


Jacques Thienpont’s birth year and the last bottle known. It was hard being sandwiched between two great vintages as 1945 and 1947 and Broadbent cites 1946 as an odd rather than an off year, citing a plague of locusts that ravaged the vines. Cold winter, dry spring, rain daily from May to June which delayed flowering. Fairly hot summer. First half of September cold and wet, second half better.

This vintage is hardly ever seen. Here the bottle was impressive. Burnished garnet colour, quite delicate but dark. Fine, spicy aromas with some dried fruits – apricots.   Fine, good balance and abiding freshness and still surprisingly alive and drinkable. ***




Good flowering, hot and quite stormy summer (especially in August) and damp September with some heat spikes going up to 38°C. Yields were double those of 1949 as harvested under changeable, wet weather. Broadbent called it: “Middleweight but can be surprisingly nice.”  Parker was enthusiastic about the 1950, giving it 99 points. Writing in 2003 he called it: “Remarkably rich, still youthful, from this fabulous vintage in Pomerol... sensationally ripe... extremely full bodied with Port like viscosity this blockbuster wine must be one of the least known profound wines of the century.”

A successful vintage in Pomerol with ripe fruit. Parker called this one of the last known profound wines of the century. It has a pure, garnet colour. Silky and very perfumed and floral. Pretty. Lovely sweetness and silkiness with flavours of balsam and soft fruit.  Gentle finish. *** ½




Good vintage, excellent on the Right Bank. Warm spring, hot June, very good flowering conditions. July and August hot with some rain. September put the brakes on and was cooler and changeable with rainfall quite heavy during harvest around the middle of the month. Below average yields but the alcohol levels were good due to summer heat.

Parker was very enthusiastic calling the 1952: “A sleeper, was sweet and cedary... reminiscent of a top Graves. Full-bodied with glorious concentration and richness.” Fading a bit but still an exciting, tasting experience. Leafy, herbs and gentle red fruit in the nose. Vieux Château Certan is regarded as one of the stars of the vintage.

Bacon fat and some sweetness on the palate with fading cedar notes on the finish. **




Regarded very highly as one of the best post-war vintages. Early spring; dry with frost risks for two months, flowering affected by rain – some coulure. End of June hot and stormy. One of the best Augusts in memory (août fait le moût). Good weather until mid-September and then rain delayed harvest. Picking began October 2nd under perfect skies. Good yields.

Regarded as one of the best post-war vintages and the wine has shown good longevity.  Clear, garnet colour. Beautiful, expressive nose with a nori (seawood) flavour and fresh, bright fruit still on the palate. Finish is fine and quite long with cedar and forest floor notes. Charming and elegant. ****




Broadbent calls this a good but underappreciated vintage. January very wet. Mid-February spring like. March cold and frosty. April warm. May cold; flowering in hot weather and then rain. Hot June. Perfect July. August hot and dry. Welcome rain in September. Perfect weather for harvest which started around 22nd September.

The wines have quietly blossomed since their release yet not as attractive as the 1953s. Georges Thienpont’s notes talk about: “An outstanding wine with a very dark colour; fine aromas and taste; one of the best wines of the Gironde, if not the best.” A little volatile with dark fruit and concentrated flavours with plums, truffles, earthy and cedar flavours. Sweet in the finish.

This vintage has come into its own in recent tastings (over last 20 years). Georges Thienpont called it an “outstanding wine” shortly after the harvest. It certainly performed beautifully here with a rich, crimson colour, a silky texture and an elegant, balanced structure. It has a Burgundy sweetness to it and a round, red fruit, fine finish.  Gorgeously mature. *****




Mild winter. March had cold, snow and hail. April very cold. May very fine and then cold and rain. Good flowering, warm and dry. The weather was unsettled for most of the growing season with intermittent storms, with a slight break in the clouds for a warm end July and beginning of August. A late harvest, around 6 October under good conditions, finished a difficult year.

Two thirds of the vineyard had been killed off by the terrible frosts of 1956  (-23°C) when the vine trunks  burst and the only shoots left sprung out of the sides so there was very little wine and this has oxidized and is way past its prime.  




This vintage gave Bordeaux a boost since it produced both quality and quantity. January was changeable. February was warm with cool nights. Spring like weather in March with heavy rain at end of month. April and May warm with good weather during flowering. Summer dry, mild and sunny. Rain showers in September helped grapes. Picking from 18 September. Some difficulty during the fermentation because of the warm weather.

This is my birth year so this bottle was rather a disappointment and not as good as other bottles I’ve enjoyed in the past which had notes of blackberry and truffle but sadly this bottle was disappointing as it was a bit volatile. Sweet fruit and a silky texture and supple tannins but fading. **




Georges Thienpont describing the vintage spoke sadly about the 29 May frost which destroyed one third of the vineyard. Cold during flowering. Rain at end of July. Warm in August. Summer drought lasted through September. Thick grape skins. Perfect health. Harvest began 27 September. Small crop, one-third of usual yields.

An attractive wine with a lovely mature nose of cedar, truffles and really pretty fruit (although Alexandre detected brett). A very small crop but what there was good. A saline quality in the attack and then generous fruit which is still drinking beautifully even if it lacks some richness and is fading. ****




A good vintage overshadowed by the great 1961. Cold and rainy climate until end of May. Good weather mid-June for flowering. Very hot summer with some rain to swell the berries. Late harvest under good conditions around October 9th.

Georges Thienpont noted its grace and elegance. It has a saline, oceanic drive and floral elegance typical of old Vieux Château Certan, with tertiary aromas of faded roses and truffles. This was a rather disappointing bottle which stopped abruptly mid-palate. A bit acidic. Mature and developed with notes of faded roses and earthy truffles. **




A very good vintage although all Bordeaux producers stated that they “picked before the rain.” Mild wet winter. Quite warm spring. Very good flowering conditions. Hot and dry summer; up until mid-September, a ripe, healthy, generous crop everywhere. Weather deteriorated mid-September with two weeks of constant rain. The Right Bank was seen as producing the best wines as it was a textbook growing season and being earlier ripening, certainly picked before the rain.

One of the stars of the tasting, there is lovely depth of colour. Floral, very perfumed and rich on the nose with precise notes of sandalwood, rose hips, cassis and great freshness. This is fabulous, deeply satisfying and long.  Still has a few years ahead of it. *****




In the 1960s, only three vintages proved extraordinary: 1961, 1964 and 1966. Like the other two, 1966 corresponds to the grape percentage of the vineyard at the time: 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec. Mild winter. Early spring. Fine weather for flowering. Summer cool and dry except for rainy July. Hot, sunny September. Harvesting under perfect conditions early October.

A brick red color marks its age; deep aromas of violet and blackcurrant, Merlot, combine with cedar, lead pencil, Cabernet Francs and Sauvignons.”, wrote Alexandre in 2003. In the mouth, the attack is concentrated without being powerful. The breed, aromatic persistence and length constitute the signature of a great Pomerol terroir. The “artisanal, handmade” quality is very present, and this was Alexandre’s Thienpont’s father Léon’s first vintage. Makes a great pair with the 1964 and there is an imprint of VCC on these wines which is of rosehips and ripeness; elegance matched with freshness. A wonderful trio of 1961, 1964 and 1966. The latter is complete and balanced showing impressive fresh length. ****




Cold winter, bad weather during flowering which immediately reduced the crop. Cold June but a quite favourable July and August. The first two weeks of September were rainy, followed by a week of fine and sunny weather which lasted to the vintage that began at the beginning of October. On paper, the weather sounded better than it was. Sadly, the September rain was constant (20 days) and rot thrived more than the grapes.

There is not much we can say about this vintage, but we can always hope for a miracle (this like several other “off vintages” was served to mark a journalist’s birthyear. Even Broadbent struggles to be polite: “After a moderately promising start this has turned out to be one of the most unsatisfactory vintages of the period. Acidic and fading. On its way out.




Broadbent called it an outstanding vintage both for the quality and the quantity of the crop. The wine market needed another good vintage. Cool winter, late spring, flowering late but good weather. High temperatures and drought in July. August varied between hot periods and rainy, cooler periods. A long period of warm weather and bright sunshine including over the harvest period. Unusual for all the Bordeaux grapes to ripen evenly and at the same time.

Depth of colour, high alcohol, roundness and softness from fully ripe grapes. Some sweetness. Much appreciated when young, long-lasting vintage. High yielding rootstocks, the ban on planting Merlot for 5 years, the huge amount of chemicals used and cool, wet weather combined with the oil crisis and inflation in many markets made this a difficult period for many Bordeaux. Good garnet colour and sweet fruit on the nose. Good compoted fruit on the palate with sweetness and a lovely core of freshness.  Pretty, silky and fresh in the VCC style. *** ½




A good vintage with some stylish, elegant wines with Pomerol being one of the best appellations. Very cold winter. Cold, wet spring apart from a warm April. May and June relatively cold and rainy especially during flowering with one third of crop lost to coulure. Hail damage in Pomerol on June 14th. Summer warm and sunny with some light rain, fine weather in October with harvest at the beginning of the month. Small vintage with alcohol levels around 11.5–12%.

A good surprise. From the start there is good freshness in the aromas with pretty, floral notes. Some rather grainy tannins on the palate which makes the wine appear mature but there is good length and persistence of fruit flavours. ***




Mild winter with quite heavy rainfall. Warm start to spring with some frost and cold spells. Good flowering. Hot and dry summer. Rain before harvest which began around 26th September. A few hailstorms punctuated dry and sunny weather during the vintage. Small crop due to summer drought. A perfect Pomerol vintage.

Probably touted because the other vintages of the 1970s were so disappointing, 1975 can impress. Emile Peynaud said it was one of the greatest ever. Alexander’s notes: “High quality nose, with a background of candied fruit. Very nice attack. Lots of fullness. Very good and long palate of humus, undergrowth... Very beautiful wine.” Quite dark and dry with a stern, structure, this is considered to be the best Vieux Château Certan of the 1970s decade. Despite good sweetness and fruit still present there is a rather hard structure to this wine which obstructs the charm and personality that VCC usually has.  On the palate there are notes of undergrowth and hummus and this is certainly showing tertiary flavours. ***




Disastrous frosts in the spring. Late flowering. June cold and wet. High rainfall in July. First half of August hot and dry, second half of August cool and damp. September was the driest and sunniest since 1851 with good harvest conditions over short, late period beginning of October. Moderate yields, deeply coloured grapes, not very sweet and quite acidic.

Shown for a journalist’s birth year. Light and fresh in the nose with flavours that remind me of a Cabernet Franc from the Loire. This wine was produced after the crash in the 1970s and was always an underdog. A bit stemmy and surly in the finish. **




Poor 1987, it must be tough to be the black sheep of the decade! January was freezing cold through March which delayed bud break. April was warm which got growth started again. May was fine but a storm ravaged the vineyards on 7 June disrupting flowering and causing coulure. June was rainy. July and August were hot and peppered by storms. An Indian summer led to picking around 1st October but coincided with downpours, so grapes suffered from dilution.

Rain washed away any hopes of 1987 being another 1982. Most of the 1987 Vieux Château Certan was probably drunk young by the family. The wines were a bit green but this bottle was quite drinkable although always the underdog in a decade of great vintages. It has fading fruit and VCC character and shows good spice and  some freshness still. There is good drive here with fruit, acidity and energy. A good bottle and a good surprise. ***




The weather was warm through to May but very wet in the latter two months. Flowering at the beginning of June went better than expected between the showers. From July to September, high pressure brought stable, warm weather. Dodging storms, the grapes were picked at the end of September. The blend was 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.

First of the trio of wines to end the decade, Alexandre called1988 “the twin brother of 1996 and 1983”, which were exceptional years for Cabernet Franc, although he regrets the too generous yields in this vintage. Vieux Château Certan 1988 has served for several years as a reference for the typicality of its expression in this grape variety. It is a classic wine with good structure and definition, driven on by fresh energy. The blend was 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Served from magnum. Drinking well and a good way to finish a series of “off” vintages. Very typical VCC, 1988 was a Cabernet Franc year and there is precise rosehips and redcurrant flavours here. There is a silky structure and good definition, and this is drinking well now. ***



We finished the dinner with two bottles of 1921 Yquem: one Etikhove bottled and the other bottled at the château. Divine history!!

Serie 3: 20th century wines: Friday morning the 7th September


1923 was a tale of two contrasts: a cold, wet spring followed by a warm, dry summer. Between the two was a late bud break, an irregular flowering and coulure which especially impacted the Merlots. At one stage in August, the temperature hit 34°C. Local storms caused some mildew and oidium problems. The harvest began around the 1st of October.

Perhaps it was these qualities that charmed Georges Thienpont who wrote: “Everyone agrees that the wines from this vintage are of very great quality.”, but that he was going to wait to bottle the wines until Spring 1925. Most of the wines from this vintage, were consumed when young. Russet red colour – pale orange with light body. Fragrant.  Vinous with a bit of caramel but still alive. Light with cooked apple fruit and some freshness still and a gentle structure. Delicate. Nice balance and fresh finish. ***




A miserable year, which was cold, wet and dull, it’s marked by the lack of sun. Hail hit Pomerol on 19 April. With a very uneven growing season, the grapes struggled to reach maturity. Harvest began late on 3 October to attempt to make the most of the patchy rays of sunshine, and was abundant, due to the rain swollen grapes but was generally ignored by the Bordeaux winemakers.

Medium weight and body with a russet red colour, some depth. Nose of toffee apples. Sour cherry attack with good balance and some impressive depth for a 100-year-old wine. A tad dry and rough with the acidity that stands out a bit too much, but this is real wine quand même! **




Very good year. Small crop due to poor flowering after a long winter and a cold spring. Very long, hot summer with a peak at 34 °C and drought conditions (like 1865, Michael Broadbent tells us). Harvest began late, on 4 October, delayed by the drought that slowed down the vine’s development. Small crop which was more successful on the Right Bank. From a low-shoulder magnum.

The wines were released to much acclaim and to high prices, largely due to the boom of the mid-20s. Michael Broadbent tasted many of the wines and gave the vintage a five-star rating with ecstatic reviews for Cheval Blanc: “A perfect claret.” when tasted in 1987. Georges Thienpont stated: “True to their initial promise, the wines are aging perfectly.” and urged “Any wine amateur, wanting to have a good cellar should reserve some of these wines, despite their high price.” Light russet colour with good freshness and some fruit remaining. Quite spicy and fruity. Some interest here with a silky and quite transparent texture which overlays the fruit. Quite light and volatile but impressive to see this in this condition. **




Best and longest lasting vintage of the 1920s, with great weather after a cool and dull spring: successful flowering. Perfect summer: heat in August tempered by useful rains. Excellent harvest weather and cool nights prevented any bacterial risks due to the warm temperatures. Georges Thienpont spoke of this problem in his catalogue and lamented the fact that not enough winemakers take the necessary precautions in these very hot summers. The wines were rich with thick skins, structured tannins and led to the impressive longevity of this vintage.

1928 continued to astound with its elegance and fruit despite the warm vintage. Over the past decade bottles emerged in tastings in London, Los Angeles and Hong Kong that show a fleshy, rich almost Burgundian structure. The wine has begun to evolve quite quickly in recent years and this was from a recorked bottle. A bit reduced and creamy texture, spice, orange peel, acidity is a bit disjointed, and Roy believes that the sulphur added during recorking has affected the wine. I quite like this! There is a vinous quality and a pretty, fresh structure and some fruity complexity with gently fading fruit and a finish which is long and still fruity. ***




Awarded only one star by Broadbent, although he admits that this was certainly an overlooked vintage. There was a wet winter, with unusually warm weather in February which woke up the vines and lasted until mid-April. May’s unsettled weather resulted in lots of mildew and an uneven flowering. Hail and rain punctuated the warm summer, and the vintage was somewhat saved by a fine September with cool nights. Picking started on the 1 October.

A rarity, pale russet, ruby colour, quite clear. Pretty and fresh on the attack with aromas of faded violets and roses. Nice floral quality. Hot summer. On the palate there is still a gentle sandy tannic structure and I’m quite impressed by this wine. Nice, faded fruit and floral notes in the finish. A little volatile but still a wine. ***




Awarded only one star by Broadbent, although he admits that this was certainly an overlooked vintage. There was a wet winter, with unusually warm weather in February which woke up the vines and lasted until mid-April. May’s unsettled weather resulted in lots of mildew and an uneven flowering. Hail and rain punctuated the warm summer, and the vintage was somewhat saved by a fine September with cool nights. Picking started on the 1st of October.

The wine trade had no interest in this vintage when it was released as they had built up large stocks of unsold vintages during the Depression. The wines were described as: “Rather acidic but can be quite surprising.” Fingers crossed. Georges told his customers: “The 1936 gives me lots of pleasure. It reminds me of the 1924 which was remarkably fine.” A little darker and deeper than the 34. Soft perfume of faded roses, warm soils and some warmer fruit compote. Late harvest. The wine is quite balanced and elegant with a gentle reverberation of tannin and some oak. Towards the finish it becomes a bit disjointed and diluted with acidity predominating. **




The vineyards suffered from serious neglect at the start of World War II. Even so, Broadbent called this wine “Richly coloured and attractive.”, if it has been cellared well. A cold winter and spring with flowering at the beginning of June. Over the summer, the German army and mildew arrived although the weather turned dry and warm. Picking began around September 17th. By the time the harvest was finished, (it was slow because of lack of manpower), the weather at the beginning of October had turned rainy and cold.

In some ways the Nazi occupation of Bordeaux in 1940 was a godsend; they bought up all the unsold stocks of 1930s wines. There is virtually no 1940 wine to be found in the market, presumably because it was drunk by the Germans, but the Right Bank had less of a German presence than the Médoc so maybe Georges managed to smuggle his wine out to Belgium.

Quite rich, russet red colour, sweetness and freshness here with good spice and a lovely red currant fruit which is still quite lively and expressive. There is spice and structure here with good depth and a gentle, but slightly sandy tannin structure. Long and quite elegant and VCC style. Put this is in the context of the war. Neal Martin has had a couple of 1940s that have been amazingly good. During the war, the Nazis did a classification of Pomerol where VCC stood out. Good surprise, pretty.  ***




A very long, cold winter followed by a warm and dry spring and summer. Fine weather prevailed during a successful flowering. A mixture of warm temperatures and ample rain, led to an outbreak of oidium which reduced the crop by one third. Harvest began on 19 September and had to be finished rapidly before the weather deteriorated. The crop was judged light and pleasant but most of the vintage was not bottled until the end of the war. Magnum.

Very dark, shaded blackish ruby. Really very seductive and complex on the nose. And very much like a continuation of the 1940 but with more fruit. Very successful. Perhaps a cooler cellar has helped preserve the fruit. A triumph! Especially for a wartime wine. Quite good depth of colour, deep mahogany. Nose is soft and spicy, rather like plum pudding with good balance and very pretty rosehip and strawberry compote fruit. There is a rather taut, slightly mean vein of acidity here, but the freshness is good, and the finish is quite elegant. ***




Regarded as the best of the war vintages with a cold winter (there was frost in Saint- Emilion), higher temperatures in May for a good flowering around the 19th and a hot,dry summer, peppered by storms. There was little sulphur available, so the warm, dry weather before picking began on 9th September was crucial to the quality of the harvest.

For this wine, it is impossible to confirm this is a 43 because the label is faded but the vintage could just be read on the cork. Grandfather Georges told his clients not to drink this wine for at least 15 years. Still quite vigorous  with some fine structure and a slightly orange pekoe tea and floral lightness. Difficult to taste this wine – lots of sediment and VA but there is quite an attractive note of tar and roses reminding me of old Barolo. ***




What a joy to have such a fabulous vintage to celebrate the end of the war! Heavy snow at the beginning of the year, followed by a dry period until March. April was unseasonably hot, which allowed the vines to grow precociously until frosts on April 30th decimated up to 60% of the crop to be followed by hail, mildew, and summer drought up to the 13 September harvest date, when picking begun under perfect conditions.

Recorked and reconditioned bottle. Pretty orange russet colour. Good aromas of roses, strawberries, fruit and a little vein of tannin which reflects the structure. This is in good condition. A lovely wine, with elegant, lacy tannins and great intensity which expands on the palate. Still could keep going for a bit. A historic, beautiful, charming bottle that still can be drunk for a decade to come. Fabulous. *****




1947 is regarded as the vintage that proves that great, age worthy wines could be produced in a very hot year. There was a very cold winter until March when the weather turned warm and wet. In May the weather turned warm and there was hail damage in Pomerol at the end of the month. The summer was hot and dry with heat peaks reaching 39 °C, occasionally punctuated by rain. Harvest began around 15 September.

Dark garnet colour, pretty and fresh; aromatic, with a gentle hint of faded roses, violets and some truffles, tobacco leaf and then a savoury undertow which is quite energetic.  Lovely and rich on the palate with quite a lush structure, and long, elegant finish which is still lively and expressive. Fabulous. Rich, velvety and poised. The great point in this tasting is that the wines have such personality, reflecting the domain and the vintage. A great old VCC! So impressive. *****




Warm temperatures spilled over from 1947 into 1948 and continued until February when it turned cold. Frost alert in mid-April and then warm and rainy weather at the beginning of May led to an early flowering. Widespread mildew and oidium. Mixed summer weather. Fine, stable weather when harvest began around 22 September.

Deep garnet colour, even now still quite youthful and there would be no way blind that you would think this wine is so old. Perfume builds up from the typical rich Pomerol style with rosehips and violets and a touch of blossom which offsets the more rich, earthy notes where you have the idea that the Merlot is very happy in this environment.  There is such great energy here and the tannins are perfect. Lush and sensual. Could last for another 10 years or so. *****




Bordeaux’s first modern vintage started out warm so that vegetative growth began early. By May, there were serious worries about drought but heavy rain in May came just before flowering, which was early and successful. It was a hot summer with some welcome showers towards the end. As picking began in mid-September, the heat reappeared. High yields and high temperatures created a challenge during winemaking. Not enough selection.

Bright and fresh with a russet colour, a little diluted, because of the big yield. Surprisingly the colour is not much different from the 1948 before it. Charming and fleshy with good perfume. This is still very pleasurable and easy to drink with ripe, rather compote fruit and fleshy tannins. A very sunny year. Not as much structure as other great Right Bank 1982s; a little hollow and quite easy drinking now. Charming. ***




Always in the shadow of 1982, it was not an easy start to the year with cool, rainy weather. June brought better conditions, just in time for flowering. The summer was hot but stormy, with a mini heat wave at the beginning and end of September, and a cool period in between. Perfect harvest conditions were enjoyed around 26 September.

There is good aromatic freshness of walnuts, spice, orange peel, balsam. Attractive and tender character. On the palate the wine has good structure from both the acidity and the tannin. There is a lovely roses and violets aroma on the back of the palate and a vein of acidity which lifts the wine through to quite a concentrated, finish with lots of verve and some extract. There is still life here and this is a lovely surprise. ****




The Garonne almost froze in January as the year began with a cold spell. A cold, changeable and rainy period until June, just in time for an even flowering. The summer was hot with occasional rain in August. It was dry and warm for the harvest around 25 September with high volumes and good healthy grapes. The vintage was made by Alexandre’s uncle Georges as Alexandre’s father Léon had died in early 1985. This wine was not chaptalized (1982 was). Very low alcohol 11.5° as a result. A good, happy vintage but this is really a bit diluted. Alexandre introduced the second wine, Gravette, in this year (against the wishes of the family). Lush and fresh and very marked by the Merlot.  Easy drinking and light for now. ***




Cold winter followed by dry and hot weather from May throughout the summer. Flowering under good conditions was around June 18th. Dry conditions until mid-September when torrential rain swelled the grapes and increased the yields. The tanks were “bleeded” for the first time to try to increase the skin-juice ratio.

This was Alexandre’s first vintage. Closed for many years but with good structure and tannin more like a Médoc wine and is quite a change to the fleshier, open 1985s. Sadly, not tasted as all bottles were corked. Cabernet Franc year although the Cabernet Sauvignon influenced the blend because it was so expressive.  




Mild and dry until late February. Budding occurred three weeks earlier than usual. It rained for 24 days out of 30 in April, causing some millerandage and coulure. June had mild weather, resulting in good flowering. June was very hot and quite stormy. The summer was dry and hot, similar to 1947, with Merlots reaching 13% potential alcohol. Ideal harvest conditions with high yields.

Alexandre: “An outstanding early growing Merlot year.” Harvest began on August 31st. A very “Pomerol wine”: spicy, warm, and silky. Typical of a wine produced in a hot, dry year. A bit tough when young, but today more balanced and open. Blend: (same as 1990) 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Surprisingly russet brown in colour and quite advanced. Nose is spicy, tobacco, some plummy fruit, good intensity and freshness. Signed by the Merlot grape. Light and fresh but ready to drink and quite refined. On the finish there is a linear quality of acidity and good tannic freshness with lead to an elegant and long finale. These two wines (89 and 90) are quite similar but there was very early ripening in 1989 and this bottle is quite surprisingly developed. ****




Alexandre : “In 1990, two strong images come to mind: a superb, very hot summer followed by a long period without rain at the end of the season. I had to rigorously adapt the vineyard. Third consecutive hot year after 88 and 89, 1990 was a major benchmark.” Warm winter, early bud burst. Rain in April then period of hot and cold weather until July. Crop thinning. Success for Merlot and the Right Bank. Magnum.

Each grape picked at perfect maturity. Blend was same as vineyard: 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Alexandre: “A great Pomerol: dark ruby colour with a concentrated, fine bouquet, and a subtle, silky, velvety taste. It exudes scents of violet, blackcurrant as well as a very good aromatic intensity already revealing great complexity, superb balance and long persistence. Vieux Château Certan is a great wine for aging that we are just beginning to appreciate.

Bright, garnet red colour but also but more depth of colour and aromas here than in the 1989. Lovely perfume of roses, violets, truffles and warm earth. Very typical Pomerol. Silky, sensual but also lots of matière. There is a core of spicy acidity and ripe tannins that sits at the middle of this wine. Long and lush in the finish with very precise flavours. This stands head and shoulders above the 1989 and has at least a decade or two to go yet. More consistent and complete here. This is a great wine with life still ahead of it. Impressive. *****




Alexandre: “It is with emotion that we will remember the year 1996. Requiring a lot of care and a strict selection in the vines, the climatic cycle was however ideally temperate, with a very beautiful late season favouring the full expression of our grape varieties, particularly Cabernet Franc.” 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, only from vines more than 25 years old.

Very rich colour but with a russet ruby rim. Some sweetness in the nose with good plummy fruit and a spicy, fresh quite tannic attack. Fine structure. There is persistence and good acidity mid-palate, the fruit becomes more subtle and gives way to more secondary aromas of forest floor, tobacco and balsam. The tannins are very present and there is good energy that drives the wine forward to a forthright, silky finish. Still has several decades to age. ****




Alexandre: “In 1998, Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons reached maturity very early, and within a few days of each other. It’s rare. During this very hot summer, the Cabernet Francs suffered from excessive drought, which considerably slowed down their maturity and they did not make it into the final blend which was 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Due to Pomerol’s precocious soils, we were able to harvest before the heavy rains between 21 and 26 September.” Small harvest of 34 hl/ha.

Dark intense garnet colour, a little bretty on the nose which is the first time we detect this in the 1998. Rich and truffley on the attack with lots of tannin and layers of oak, fruit, tannin and acidity. This is a big wine; powerful, generous and assertive. Big proportion of Merlot 90%, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Brett mars the wine somewhat and the acidity is a little volatile. The finish comes into its own with a lovely echo of plummy fruit, truffle and freshness. Still years to go yet. ****




Alexandre: “1999 was a Merlot year, like 1998 and 1997. It was a vintage of fruit, not of tannin, as was the 1998. With our precocious terroir, the harvest took ten days, from 13 September, under excellent conditions. For the third consecutive year, we confirmed the supremacy of our superbly mature Merlot grapes. The blend reflects this.” 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. 38 hl/ha.

This is a lovely wine which is so pleasurable and open. Dark, grenadine colour, nose is fine and floral with notes of truffles and roses. There is great energy and tannin mid-palate with lots of class and spice. This is a great and quite like the 1985. This wine is unfurling gradually and there is a certain austerity now, lightly ferrous and good ripeness. A beautiful wine from an underrated vintage. Age for a couple of decades more. This is a lovely wine. ****