Pontet Canet Vertical Tasting
Tuesday, 8 November 2016 by Thomas Parker
Nestled in the heart of Pauillac on Bordeaux’s left bank, Chateau Pontet Canet, the overachieving Fifth Growth, has been striving to make wines of the highest quality, reflected in consumer and critical acclaim, since the turn of the century. Last month Melanie Tesseron, General Director of the Chateau, came to visit Farr Vintners and lead a masterclass through 10 vintages of Pontet Canet and explain how the team are moving the wine forward to new heights both in the vineyard and the winery.
With her uncle Alfred Tesseron (the President of the Chateau), Melanie has overseen some significant changes to Pontet Canet in the last decade, which have led to a string of admirers (not least Robert Parker, who scored both the 2009 and 2010 vintage a perfect 100 points in bottle). The Tesseron family bought Pontet Canet in 1975. The gravel based soils and heavy (65%) plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon are typical of the great wines from Pauillac. The 81 hectares under vine are now 100% certified biodynamic by both Demeter and Biodyvin. The process started in 2004 with Merlot, as the aim was to move away from synthetic and harmful chemicals as well as soil-compacting tractors in order to improve vine quality. The result was such a success that they moved to 100% biodynamic production in 2005 and were fully certified in 2010. 40% of the vineyard is now worked entirely by horse, and there is ongoing construction of larger stables which will allow for 20 horses and 100% of production to be farmed this way.
Inside the winery there is the same meticulous attention to detail. There are not one but two sorting tables, one before and one after the destemmer to first catch unsuitable bunches and then individual berries that are deemed of insufficient quality. This regimen allows the Chateau to produce such a high proportion of first wine. The carefully selected grapes are then gravity fed into vats where they ferment with wild yeasts for roughly two weeks. Temperature control is manual, and there is no delestage (rack and return), artificial cooling or pigeage (punching down) as they have found since converting to biodynamic the colour and tannin extracts too quickly via this method. After light pumpovers the wine is transferred to 50% new oak, 15% second use barrels and 35% custom-designed unlined concrete amphora which have the vineyard soil integrated into the mix with the aim of increasing the effect of their terroir. The wines will stay here for up to 18 months before blending and bottling at the end of their second year.
This unique combination of vineyard and cellar work is what makes Pontet Canet stand out from the crowd and gain attention. With these changes happening mostly over the last 10-15 years, it was interesting to taste through all vintages from 2004 to 2013 with Melanie, to see how the wine has progressed with them. We tasted from old to young with wines all directly from the Chateau and served from 75cl bottles.
2004 Pontet Canet
This was Melanie’s first vintage at Pontet Canet.
Medium ruby colour with a little garnet fade at the rim, the plum and cassis fruit core on the nose is starting to show notes of cedar, leather and savoury spices. The palate follows with fresh black cherry and blackcurrant melded with leathery, earthy undertones and chewy but yielding tannins. There is a touch of smoky spice and kirsch on the long finish. This wine is ready to drink but still has life in it yet. 16/20
2005 Pontet Canet
By contrast to the 2004, the colour is deeper and more purple, with a dense and brooding nose of cassis, blackberry and a touch of toasted cumin and licquorice. The palate is intense and concentrated with fresh, youthful black fruit and hints of cedar. There is great, ripe tannic grip and balancing acidity to give great structure to this youthful wine. The depth of flavour is very impressive, with damson, blackcurrant and cocoa lasting through to the finish. The smoky, sweet spices add yet another layer of complexity. While you could just about drink this now, a great future lies ahead for this wine. 18.5+/20
2006 Pontet Canet
Similar in colour to the 2004, this wine shows leather and bramble fruits on the nose with a touch of smoke. The tannins remain firm in this wine and provide an upright structure to the ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit. There is already a pepper, smoke and leather undertone to the flavours on the palate as this moves to maturity. Good now but should improve as the tannins soften. 16+/20
2007 Pontet Canet
As we have often said at Farr Vintners, 2007s offer a great opportunity to taste great Chateaux at a good price and at a young age. This Pontet Canet is no different. With a medium ruby/garnet colour, there are earthy, fresh red and black cherries on the nose with hints of graphite and leather. The palate is already soft and silky with resolved tannins and refreshing acidity. Classic notes of fresh blackcurrant and cedar follow through with hints of undergrowth on the finish. Perfect to drink now and I see no reason to wait! 16/20
2008 Pontet Canet
A vivid ruby colour in the glass, the nose of damson and lightly spicy leather makes for a juicy and complex aromatic profile. With time in the glass more and more ripe blueberry fruit comes forth. The palate hits the sweet spot between ripe blackcurrant and blueberry, with fresh acidity and still firm tannins. Everything is well balanced and youthful here, and there is still a kiss of sweet smoke from the new oak. Very good intensity and a nice depth to the fruit, with a lifted, slightly floral finish. This wine really showed a level of refinement in extraction of tannin as a benchmark for the changing style since the 2004. 17/20
2009 Pontet Canet
A very deep ruby colour, this wine has an incredibly exuberant and expressive nose, fully of ripe black cherries, kirsch, damson and cassis. There are layers of complexity from sweet vanilla and toast from the new oak. The palate is rich, voluptuous and viscous with great power and depth of concentrated black fruits. Though the tannins are mouth-filling, their velveteen texture and ripeness makes for a supple, explosive textural profile that exudes ripe cassis and sweet vanilla. This is a hedonistic delight with great length and retained balance. It is already greatly enjoyable to drink now, but there are decades in which this wine will improve and gain savoury complexity. This warrants its praise from Robert Parker. 19+/20
2010 Pontet Canet
The deep purple colour to this vintage is followed by a ripe, yet fresh and dense concentration of cassis on the nose. Where the 2009 is exuberant and exotic, this 2010 has a mineral graphite edge, with hints of violets and blueberries. The palate is incredibly concentrated, dense and powerful, with an incredible depth of black fruit. This is bound together with 2010s trademark tannins, which coat the mouth with a rich and chewy texture. Layers of charcoal smoke, sweet vanilla and savoury spices all come into play, but this wine is still so youthful that the primary focus is that ripe yet beautifully balanced black fruit. The acidity and tannin lifts the long finish. This is a truly superb wine and to my palate the best ever produced from the Chateau. Unlike the 2009, this needs good time in the cellar to allow all the structure to soften and integrate. Once it does, it will drink for many, many years. 19.5+/20
2011 Pontet Canet
A bright, deep ruby in the glass with a fresh nose of graphite, blackcurrant, blackcurrant leaf and mint with hints of cedar and smoke. The palate is firm, with crisp acidity and Medocain tannins framing red and black cherries and some bramble fruit. This is a crunchy, fresh style that still holds to its tannic structure, though it is just about approachable, especially if it were to be drunk with food. 16/20
2012 Pontet Canet
Deep purple with ripe, sweet blueberry and blackberry fruit and explosive violet, floral notes on the nose. There is a layer of sweet charcoal smoke too. The palate is concentrated in fruit yet soft in tannin with a ripe, fine texture allowing the sweet vanilla and mocha flavours of the oak to come through with the cassis and kirsch fruits. There is balance from fresh acidity and the softness of the tannins mean this is approachable now, however this wine can also be kept for laying down thanks to the spicy, smoky oak character and power of fruit. 17/20
2013 Pontet Canet
A medium ruby colour with fresh red currants and red berries with a hint of hedgerow. The palate has fresh red cherries, garrigue and bramble fruits framed by lifted acidity and light levels of firm tannins. As with most 2013s this is a wine that is designed to be fresh and drunk young, the extraction and concentration lower than in the other vintages tasted, however it does find balance and freshness with a moderate alcohol and clean, lightly smoky finish. 15.5/20
The changes in style and push for quality are evident through the decade from this tasting, reaching a peak in the great 2010 vintage, which should be a perfect wine when it hits maturity. The style of winemaking and vineyard work has clearly had an effect on the wines, the philosophy of the Tesseron family coming through in the glass. We would like to thank Melanie for coming to visit, explaining the progression of the Chateau, and allowing us to taste through the wines. We hope to do so again soon!