Château Certan de May (fully Château Certan de May de Certan) is a relatively small but historic wine estate situated in the Right Bank appellation of Pomerol in Bordeaux. The estate was established by the de May (Demay) family, who were Scottish settlers in France during the Middle Ages and received the land by royal decree during the 16th century. It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, that the de May family started producing wines which were well-regarded and products of this excellent terroir. To provide you an idea, the estate once included what is now Vieux Château Certan and Château Certan-Giraud but was divided up following the French Revolution. When the last member of the de May family passed away in 1925, the estate passed to the Barreau-Badar family and they own it to this day under Jean-Luc Barreau.
Relatively small in size, Château Certan de May consists of 5.5 hectares of vineyard land planted to 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon with an average vine age of 35 years. The vineyard soils are made up of clay and deep gravel, in turn yielding grapes and wines that are powerful and structured, yet elegant and complex. All of the fruit is hand-harvested and the winemaking style is quite traditional before the wines age in 60-80% new oak barrels for 16-20 months. From the mid to late 1980s until the mid to late 2000s, quality was hit or miss but has been drastically improved since then. Annual production sits around 2,000 cases per vintage, and pricing generally isn’t too “terrible” relative to many other wines in the appellation.
Today’s Wine: 2011 Château Certan de May
Merlot dominant proprietary blend (vineyards planted to 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon); 13% ABV
The 2011 Château Certan de May is opaque medium ruby in color. This certainly requires decanting, and I found it showing beautifully around the three hour mark and it only got better from there. The aromas are of medium intensity and include blackcurrant, black raspberry, plum, anise, violets, cigar box, forest floor, black truffle, grilled green herbs, and crushed rock. Meanwhile the flavors on the palate are of medium intensity and showcase black cherry, plum, blackcurrant, dried tobacco, earthy mushroom, chocolate, cola, cracked pepper, green herbs, and cedar. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish.
Price: $80. I was pleasantly surprised with this bottle, and I believe it offers very solid value given the “ok” vintage. For instance, the incredible 2009 and 2010 vintages sell for closer to $120 or $130. This is a very strong effort.
Vieux Château Certan (VCC) is a preeminent Bordeaux wine estate established in the mid-1700s in Pomerol on Bordeaux’s Right Bank. Though the early years are somewhat murky, the estate was founded by Jean Demay de Certan and the château itself traces to around 1770. Back then, the wines were bottled under the label Sertan. VCC quickly became one of the greatest wines produced in Pomerol and remains at that stature today, with the vineyards flanked by the great Château Pétrus and a short drive from Château Lafleur and Château Le Pin.
In 1924, change occurred when Belgian wine merchant Georges Thienpont (who owned Château Troplong Mondot) purchased VCC. Though the wines remained revered under his ownership, Georges sold everything through his own negociant business and limited its international exposure by doing so. It would not be until the 1980s when VCC started selling en primeur and racking up international acclaim. Though the estate weathered great troubles during the depression of the 1930s, it remains with the Thienpont family to this day. Alexandre Thienpont took over management and has since renovated the estate in 1988 and 2003 to continue constant improvement of the quality of wine. Today, Alexandre’s son Guillaume helps manage the estate and the team remains steadfast in their dedication to traditional winemaking aided by modern technology.
VCC consists of 14 hectares of vineyards, planted to roughly 65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The estate practices sustainable farming and come harvest often moves row by row or even vine by vine depending on fruit readiness. VCC vinifies the wine using traditional oak and stainless steel vats that are temperature controlled, with an assortment of vats to allow for parcel by parcel vinification by variety and age of the vines. Production typically caps out at 5,000 cases per year, though there is a second wine called La Gravette de Certan which was introduced during the 1980s by Alexandre.
Fun Fact: Georges Thienpont introduced the iconic pink capsules as a way to track which of his negociant business clients purchased his VCC. Not wanting to offend his clients or make them uncomfortable by asking, he used these pink capsules to quietly and easily spot his wine in his clients’ cellars…or see if it was missing.
The 2014 Vieux Château Certan is opaque medium ruby in color with deep garnet variation. I let this decant for 4 hours and drank it over the following 3. Once it opens up, the nose expresses aromas of blackberry, plum, blueberry, violet, cigar box, pepper, wet slate, dried herbs, chocolate, and slight oak. Moving to the palate, the wine showcases blackcurrant, black cherry, purple and blue florals, tobacco leaf, black truffle, forest floor, green herbs, mocha, cedar, and rocky mineral. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but velvety tannins, and a long finish. Very opulent and gorgeous wine.
Price: $200. This is a tough price-point to call a wine a good “value,” but I honestly think this fits the bill. 2014 Bordeaux is really starting to show nicely (though it has more than plenty of life left) and the pricing is much easier to stomach than more highly prized vintages around it. I would stock up on this one.