TNs: Château Pontet-Canet vertical with Alfred Tesseron

Alfred Tesseron was at Glengarry for a tasting organised by Liz Wheadon. It was a great evening where Alfred took us through the wines, explained his winemaking philosophy and showed us slides of Pontet-Canet.

Château Pontet-Canet is located in Pauillac, across the road from Château Mouton Rothschild. Pontet-Canet has 81 ha under vine. The wines are typically cabernet sauvignon 64%, merlot 30%, cabernet franc 4% and 1-2% cabernet franc (which does not vary greatly between vintages). His average vine age is 45 years, with younger vine grapes (say less than 10 years) going into his second label.

Alfred said that he would personally prefer to do his wines unoaked and that he sees too much oak as make up that masks the fruit. However, he said, the market demands oak. His wine is 16-18 months in barrel, 60% new French oak. He uses natural yeasts from the vineyard.

Alfred said his philosophy is non-interventionist. He responded to a question about winemaking by saying that he was a grape grower not a winemaker (which he associates with a factory-type approach). Asked about micro-oxygenation he said that he did not do it and does not like ‘recipes’ for wines. For example, he put the relative freshness of his 2003, a drought year, down to his work in the vineyard, the healthy, biodynamic nature of his vines and picking when ripe (not overripe), not winemaking techniques.

Part of this was his move to a fully biodynamic, organic approach since his 2005 vintage. He attributes what he sees as the improvement of his wines from the 2005 vintage onwards in large part to this.

The wines were decanted about 8 hours before serving. I took home samples of all of the wines except the 2001 and 2007, left them at room temperature and drank them about 32 hours after opening. All of the samples seemed exactly the same on the next night, none had noticeably opened up or fallen over.

Served non-blind in the order below.

2000 Château Pontet-Canet
Colour deep garnet, just beginning to soften at the rim. A lovely bouquet of bright red fruits, raspberries, red cherries, redcurrants, cassis, spice, tobacco and earth, with a savoury element and some autumn leaves. On palate, relatively primary and tight. Flavours of cherries, blackcurrants, blackberries, with spice and liquorice and a savoury element. Medium weight but with good concentration, power and length. Firm but relatively fine grained tannins, perhaps showing some evolution. Oak well integrated. Quite fresh and precise with reasonable acid balance. However, in sum, unbalanced. There was a lively debate about whether the awkwardness of this wine was due to it being shut down or prematurely evolved, with me thinking the former. Overall, disappointing. Perhaps it’s just at a bad stage. I wouldn’t open for 5 + years. 91.

Alfred described this as “perhaps a bit overrated” but (what he thought would be) “the vintage of my life” (until he saw, in turn, the 2005, the 2009, then the 2010).

2001 Château Pontet-Canet
Similar colour with a little more bricking at the rim. More expressive, spicy nose than the 2000. Aromas of underbrush, cigar box and black tea, with sour cherries. Also cedar and a clear herbal element (but not green or off aromas). On palate, bright, pure red fruits, with savoury flavours of tobacco, forest floor, sous bois and spice, the acids more obvious than for the 2000. Refreshing and approachable. A leaner, lighter bodied traditional style, that the English would call Claret. The pleasant, herby element also present in the mid palate. Sufficient structure and dry extract and nicely balanced, with the tannins perhaps a little more rustic than the 2000. The same on the second evening. A good food Bordeaux, drinking well now. I would drink in the next 5 years. 94.

Alfred said that the 2001 Pontet-Canet was a “forgotten vintage”, compared with the much hyped 2000. He said that as a wine he personally preferred the 2001 to the 2000, but expected the 2000 to come through in the long run.

2003 Château Pontet-Canet
Deep purple/red, the deepest of the first flight of four. The nose is straight primary fruits, both black and red berries: blackberry, blackcurrants, red and black cherries. There are also notes of liquorice, tobacco and florals (violets?). On palate, very primary, a lot of lush fruit, a huge structure and massive, palate coating concentration. Dense with big, grippy tannins, perhaps a little rustic. Red berry flavours with earth, tobacco and some savoury elements. Very ripe, but, to me, not surmaturite. Redeemed somewhat by some freshness, provided by the acids, that is not present in a lot of 2003 Bordeaux. Perhaps a little short. However, I am still not sure whether and how exactly this will come together. I would hold for 10+ years. At present, 91.

Alfred discussed the super-hot 2003 vintage and described this as his Mediterranean style Pontet-Canet. He described the freshness here as not stereotypical 2003 and attributed it to deep rooted vines, biodynamic practices and work in the vineyard. He said that the 2003 was for drinking now or in the next 10 years.

2004 Château Pontet-Canet
Similar deep garnet colour to the 2003, but very different on bouquet with aromas of musk, cherries, cedar, leather, blackberries and bramble. On palate, clearly a lighter, more classical style. Attractive, racy acids, reminiscent of the 2001. Less than medium bodied but with excellent understated structure, with good mid palate weight and supple tannins. Nicely balanced. Succulent flavours of cranberries, sour cherries, tobacco, leather, earth and an attractive minerality, not present in the other wines. Long savoury finish. Much underrated. Drinking very well now. I would drink in the next 5 years but could be held longer. 94.

Alfred described the 2004 as classic Bordeaux. He did not know how long it would last, but said that it could be quite long lived.

We moved to the second flight that Alfred described as a step up, partly reflecting his going 100% biodynamic from 2005.

2005 Château Pontet-Canet
Colour very deep red/black. Bouquet very closed and limited, some black berry fruits, liquorice, anise and flint. On palate, immediately, very, very primary, and shut down. Only fractionally less shut down than the 2010. Huge structure, fruit weight and concentration but, to me, all in proportion. Very precise. Suave, very fine grained and firm tannins. Vibrant flavours of pure cassis and cherry liqueur with cinnamon and lead pencil. Classic Pauillac. Very intense on the back palate. A fellow taster described this wine as massively structured and out to lunch. I agree with the first part and am assessing it largely on potential but think this a great cellar wine, that has all of the ingredients in place for the future. My WOTN, 95. Don’t look at this for 10 years though, preferably 20.

2007 Château Pontet-Canet
A noticeably lighter red colour than the 2005. More classical Bordeaux bouquet, red fruited showing underbrush, graphite and a little tobacco, with lifted florals. Similar aromatic profile to the 2001 or 2004. On palate an absolute classic, old fashioned Bordeaux. Refreshing with lovely, succulent acid structure. The flavours are red currants, tart red cherries, raspberries, cedar with some brushwood and spice. Not more than medium weight but with good structure and good, well integrated ripe tannins and oak. Quite seamless. Good length. Quite approachable now, drink in the next 5 to 10 years. A throwback to an earlier era, 93.

Alfred talked about his mildew problems with the 2007 vintage, which make this wine, in a very underrated vintage, a triumph.

2009 Château Pontet-Canet
Deep purple/red in colour, only fractionally less deep than the 2010. The nose is a little closed but with pure aromas of blackberries and black cherry, with some espresso, lead pencil and violets. On entry into the palate, sleek, velvety and smooth, with very ripe, but not overripe, fruit. Very primary fruit, driven. Huge structure, depth and power, very pure with finesse and balance. Flavours of dark plums, crème de cassis, blackberries, black cherries and blueberries. Silky smooth, ultra-fine grained tannins. Very intense and long. Not really my style, but I recognise the quality. Really needs 20 years in the cellar. 93.

2010 Château Pontet-Canet
The deepest colour on the table, deep purple. A relatively closed bouquet with traces of blackcurrant, blueberry, soy, liquorice, graphite, gun metal and some spice. Closed on the palate. Massive structure, considerably bigger than the 2009, massive concentration, but with incredible vibrancy and purity and seemingly in proportion. Ultra-sleek, almost metallic texture. Huge drive and power. At present, a little like drinking iron. Flavours of crème de cassis, graphite, dark chocolate and espresso with super fine grained tannins. Almost painful intensity on the back palate and very, very long. Ultra-modernist. As above about the style and quality, but more so. Probably needs more cellar time than the 2009. 93.

Thanks very much Alfred and Liz.

I remember buying the 2004 for $40 US. Haven’t bought since. Maybe I’ll break open that case.

Nice notes, Howard.

Brady, yes I think you should, I’d be interested in your thoughts.

I was also buying then and can remember Pontet-Canet as a 5th Growth was a real value play at that type of price. Today’s pricing, after RP100s, is much more Super Second. Good luck to Alfred Tesseron who seemed a nice bloke.

Cheers, Howard

The 2004 vintage was my last PC purchase. A very fine wine! Prices got too crazy after that. At that same $40 price, wish I had grabbed a case as well!

I bought a case of the 2004 in 375 ml. It went through a hard phase for a while, but perhaps it is now out of it. I will have to open one soon.

Thanks for posting the notes Howard - great stuff. I didn’t buy my usual case in '09 and '10 because the prices were silly. That may have been wise, though I’ll probably end up getting a couple just to complete the vertical. Time to backfill the '04 I guess - they can still be had for the relative bargain of $75 a bottle.

Re: your last 2 tasting notes, it’s seems that as the viticulture turned more and more to BioD, the style of the wine became more and more “modern”. Is that right? That sounds really weird…

No 2006? Unfortunate. That was the last highly rated PC that was available for $55-60, and I bought a bunch (for me). I suspect it is going to be at least another 7-10 years before it is ready to drink

My experience with the 2003 is a bit more positive than yours, apparently. I like that wine a lot, and think it is among the best and most long lived affordable wines coming out of that odd vintage

While I’d agree he’s probably right, how can he know that “the market demands more oak”? The only way to truly know would be to produce more than a single cuvee and see how the market responds.

Or is this just a sly way to say that Pontet Canet has garnered higher Parker scores as the new oak regimen has increased?

I suspect that he is making more than just adjustments in the field Guillaume. Other decisions could impact modernity. Pick dates and new oak seem also seem likely candidates.

I read your note on the 2000 and I am puzzled. What was unbalanced?

Your second point is the way I took it.
But regarding your fitst point, you don’t need to produce an oaky wine to know that the market is responding well to an oaky wine - you can certainly benchmark your peers.

Also bought and drank the 04s around $45-50. Reloaded about a year ago at $75. You can still get 2005 for $125. A relative bargain considering the quality vs 09 and 10. Pricing hasn’t moved much in 2 years.

Great notes Howard! Thanks for sharing.

Once again…another bad ass '04…that’s my vintage!!

Certainly. It just seems to me that producers who are going down the bioD route in the vineyards tend to have a more hands-off in the cellar as well, typically leading to more “traditional” or “rustic” wines.

Thanks for the notes. I’ve had 2001 and 2007 in the past and was very impressed with the 2001. 2007 was strong for the vintage as well.

Epic notes Howard, on a fascinating tasting, which I also attended. It was intriguing to taste the wines alongside Tesseron’s outline of the historical context; from the shift from use of herbicide to going partially biodynamic in 2004, then fully in 2005, to the involvement of Michel Rolland in 2009 and 2010, which coincided with the 100 point scores from Parker. The wines all have great fruit and those that are currently approachable display textbook right bank Bordeaux components, which made Alfred’s stated preference for minimal oak seem plausible. Perhaps his niece and successor will live to see consumers uncouple the taste of oak from quality.

Alfred came across as a realist selling wine in a capricious market. The estate has been gradually embracing modern practices (biodynamics, flying winemakers, restrained oak) that look good in glossy brochures. When I think of Pontet-Canet I think of horses, yet there are currently only five for 81 ha. Alfred was coy about this. “We have tractors, but the photographer prefers horses.”

To his credit, he has refused micro-oxygenation and he recommends reading Steiner as a cure for insomnia. And his wines are delicious.

Is there even such thing as unoaked Bordeaux, or unoaked cabernet, from anywhere? Or did he mean he would prefer to use less oak, or maybe no new oak?

Nice note s Howard, thank s
Just to see it in perspective if you give the 2009 vintage 93 points, what is in your opinion a 100 pointer?
Best regards

Harry, I’m not claiming any great science to my ratings. They are mainly to show my relative preference. I am not comfortable with anything being 100 points. I would reserve 96 to 99 points for a great wine experience eg a First Growth, DRC or D’Yquem from a great vintage, so my 95 for the '05 is a very good score. I can see how someone could see the '09 as perfection, it’s just not, at the moment, to my palate.

Chris, I agree. I understood “no oak” as old oak, large barrels.

Andrew, I agree with your comments and like your horses/ha point, that I missed.

Guillaume and Brady, the conundrum of the tasting was why were the '09 and '10 so different in character to the other wines? As '07 is atypical, it would have been good to have the '06 and '08 to see any trend that got him to the '09 and '10 style. Given his stated aversion to winemaking techniques, all Alfred offered as explanations were greater bioD, pick dates and improving vineyard management. One could however speculate about the influence of Michel Rolland from 2009 …

Fred, I saw you nailed my preferences between these vintages in another thread …

Mark, “unbalanced” is not the best descriptor for what I did not like in the '00. Perhaps better to say a bit flat, which people interpreted as either closed or very forward. Thierry interpreted it as prematurely evolved with the fruit drying out. I initially put this down to bottle variation but there were similar comments from Auckland where the bottles were from another source. However, others will be able to comment …

Neal, I agree that the '03 is very good in the context of a difficult vintage (the freshness), just that other vintages showed better IMO.

Cheers, Howard