That £4,500 bottle of Bordeaux served by mistake

If we had a pound for the number of times this will be mentioned by visitors this summer, we’ll be able to buy a bottle. Well, maybe a half. Here’s a quick recap of this cracking story that went around the world, and a brief look at how that bottle of Le Pin 2001 ended up being quite so expensive on the wine list in Manchester. Funnily enough, I was treated by some generous, wine-loving friends at a famous restaurant in northern Spain some ten years ago, and spotted the exact same wine on the list. “Wow!” I said. “They’ve got Le Pin ‘01 on the list for €600. The trade price, if you can find a bottle, is three times that.”

“Great” they said. “Order two.”

Anyway, back to the story of how a customer was given a bottle of wine costing £4,500 by mistake. Hawksmoor in Manchester handled it with aplomb.

A customer ordered a £260 bottle of wine, like you do, and was given a £4,500 wine instead, and drank it (like you do?). The story went viral, unsurprisingly. Google ‘4500 wine’ for any number of articles, though my favourite intro is from The Sun. “WHAT A PLONKER Posh steakhouse accidentally gives lucky customer £4,500 wine instead of £260 bottle. The unnamed server was told to keep their ‘chin up’ by managers at Manchester’s swanky Hawksmoor steakhouse.”

Now, Château Pichon Lalande 2001 is a lovely wine too and not to be sniffed at for £260 on a restaurant list. It would cost around £170 from a reputable wine merchant (£120 plus duty and VAT), so the restaurant price isn’t bad at all. But while Pichon Lalande is one of the great – and large – estates of Pauillac on Bordeaux’s left bank, Le Pin is a tiny jewel on the right, situated on the plateau of Pomerol with around 2 hectares of vines.

Whereas around 180,000 bottles of Pichon Lalande 2001 were made, less than 6,000 bottles of Le Pin were produced in the same year. Along with its near neighbour Petrus, Le Pin is one of the most expensive and most sought after wines in Bordeaux and recent leading vintages like the 2009, 2010, 2015 or 2016 would set you back over £3,000 a bottle plus VAT, if you can find one.

Looking back at the pricing history of Le Pin 2001, the wine was being sold for around £350 a bottle at the start, or £4,200 a case, with the original release price from the vineyard itself being a fair bit less.

It is now worth almost ten times that – at £3,200+ a bottle plus VAT, if you can track one down. Here’s a pricing history, per case of 12, from the lovely people at Liv-ex, the fine wine market.

Thinking back to the early years this century, when the price of the wine ‘languished’ at just a few thousand a case (!), I do remember at the time that Robert Parker significantly upgraded his score on Le Pin 2001 ‘in bottle’ from his original barrel assessment. (It was knowing this that the price in the restaurant El Celler de Can Roca later on, in 2008, seemed attractively low – see below.)

 

From barrel, Parker scored the wine 91-94 out of 100 (end April 2002) and wrote “Le Pin is the leading candidate for the sexiest, kinkiest, most exotic wine of the vintage. Aromas and flavors of overripe black fruits intermixed with coconut, vanilla, toast, and espresso beans nearly overwhelm the taster. It is fleshy and succulent, with low acidity, ripe tannin, and a pure, sensual personality. Jacques Thienpont produces 575 cases of this exotic, over-the-top, ripe Pomerol. Yields were 32 hectoliters per hectare in 2001. Anticipated maturity: 2005-2015.” (Source – https://www.robertparker.com.)

He later upped the score to 98, at a time when Mr P’s ratings and notes completely dominated the market. “A tremendous effort, this 500-case cuvee (one of Bordeaux’s original garage operations) is even better in 2001 than it was in 2000. Its deep ruby/plum/purple color is accompanied by an extraordinary perfume of creme de cassis, cherry liqueur, plums, licorice, caramel, and sweet toast. This flamboyant, opulently textured, rich, concentrated Pomerol is a brilliant success as well as one of the wines of the vintage for 2001. Its low acidity and extraordinary ripeness suggest early drinkability, but it has proven it can last for 18-20 years.” (Same source, 30 June 2004.)

In those good old days, 98 was a huge score – even for Parker – and coupled with Le Pin’s mythical status and genuine scarcity, the 2001 was bound to increase in value.

Note that for wines at these prices, provenance is key. Hawksmoor sourced their bottle through Bibendum, the owner, Will, told me.

I taste Le Pin every year with the owner Jacques Thienpont, though only the once with Chris Evans.

Here’s an extract from a post I wrote about choosing and drinking Le Pin 2001 for that restaurant visit back in 2008. It was called ‘The best wine list in the world – and a steal for €600 a bottle.’

I was lucky enough to be invited to this celebration dinner at El Celler de Can Roca (in Girona, northern Spain) by a group of old friends from England, Belgium and Holland, and even more fortunate that (a) I wasn’t paying and (b) was given instructions to order only the best. The same group, minus me unfortunately, had eaten at El Bulli the night before and had ordered only Spanish wines, so their preference this time was for reds from Bordeaux.

The restaurant has two Michelin stars, and on arrival we asked for a bottle of cava and the wine list. I should have said ‘lists’ – plural, because the selection is so vast that it’s in two huge parts. I found it difficult to get past the Bordeaux section, let alone France: far too many outstanding wines to choose from, at unbelievably low prices. There’s no shortage of interesting stuff in the cheap seats (the cava was lovely for €25) but my brief was to stick to the royal circle. And what a pleasure to find mature First Growths at well below current market prices, and way cheaper than any top restaurant that I have come across before.

In fact, I didn’t go for the most expensive – there’s a decent choice of Pétrus – but I couldn’t keep my eyes off Le Pin 2001 for €600 a bottle. Now I know it’s obscene to pay this sort of money for a single bottle in some people’s eyes, but this price for one of the greatest and rarest Pomerols of the decade is, absurd as it may seem, a bargain. This same wine sells for £1500 or more plus VAT from London wine merchants – if you can find it since only 500 cases were made – and here we are in a two Michelin star restaurant. Le Pin proprietor Jacques Thienpont sells his wine now for more than this en primeur, so we had to go for a bottle. In fact, for ten people, two bottles.

We decided to stick to rarer wines within the same area, partly as my Belgian friends are especially enamoured with Pomerol. Château Clinet 1989, La Conseillante 1998 (all Pomerols so far) and from literally just over the road in the graves of St-Emilion, Cheval Blanc 1998…

Le Pin 2001 (98 points – my score, mainly to remind me)

I have drunk Le Pin 2001 before, sitting next to wine writer Stephen Brook during lunch at Vieux Château Certan during Vinexpo week in June last year. It was a far better place to be than with the crowds in the Exhibition centre. Before lunch, Jacques Thienpont had served his 1999 and 2001 during an outstanding tasting of wines from family-owned domaines from Alsace to Languedoc, and casually deposited a double magnum of the 01 on a side table nearby for guests to help themselves. It was one of the most remarkable wines I have tasted, and it just got better and better in the glass. So on this occasion I was eager to see if there was any difference between a standard bottle and the larger format. (The wine in different sized bottles matures at a different pace – with the bigger bottles often ending up as the better ones.) It did not disappoint.

Decanted just an hour or so beforehand, it opens up to reveal gorgeous aromas of violets, sweet tobacco leaf and almost overripe, plummy fruit. On the palate it has enormous presence, with wonderful complexity, and yet it is so graceful. The array of flavours is astounding – all rich red fruits married to savoury, almost meaty notes and pain-grillé nuances. It’s exotic and enticing, a suave, sexy wine, although I’d be quite happy on a desert island with this. Goes on and on. Lovely. Plenty of backbone still – this enormously pleasurable merlot will last a decade or more.

Quite simply, a stunning wine.”

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