Chateau Pontet-Canet 2005
Author: Oleg Cherne
In order to understand a masterpiece of winemaking, it is simply not enough to just visit the chateau, analyze its ratings from lead experts and listen to discussions about it. The most important thing is to taste the wine. If you want to understand a wine, it must be experienced. Sure enough, to make this happen there has to be a sommelier at each self-respecting restaurant, who can prepare both the wine and you. On the example of the wonderful Chateau Pontet-Canet from 2005, we can learn more about what goes into the work of a sommelier.
Profile by CDV: Chateau Pontet-Canet
The Chateau Pontet-Canet Wintery is situated in the Paulliac commune, Medoc region, Bodreaux, department of Gironde. Its vineyards take up 120 ha. 62% of which is allocated to Cabernet Sauvignon grape, 32% to Merlot, 2% to Cabernet Franc and 2% to Petit Verdot. Planting density is 9 to 10 thousand vines per ha, which is traditional for Medoc. Pontet-Canet is located right in the neighborhood with the three best Bordeaux wineries — Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Latour and Mouton-Rothschild, which were the first grand crus on the left coast of Garonne according to the 1855 classification.
At the start of the 18th century, Jean-Francois de Pontet, the head equerry to his majesty, became the governor of Medoc and consolidated several land plots located in Paulliac. Several years later, his descendants went on to expand the vineyards even further. This is how one of the biggest, most influential winemaking facilities of Medoc first appeared. Its owner managed to strike a balance between the natural conditions of the region and the terroir.
One hundred years later, in 1855 after the famous system was implemented, Chateau Pontet-Canet earned the fifth grade within it (Cinquiemes Crus). The reason here might be that they simply did not know which category to place it in, as in that moment Pontet-Canet was not making outstanding wine, but nonetheless had good soil. This classification determined the status of their wine for the following years.
One of the first negotiants of Bordeaux Herman Cruse became interested in the winery and purchased it in 1865. There he built a new chateau, modernized the winemaking process and presented the newly renovated Pontet-Canet to the public.
The Cruse family owned Chateau Pontet-Canet for 110 years, until 1975 when it was purchased by another negotiant, Guy Tesseron, from the Cognac province. For more than two hundred years, Pontet-Canet has belonged to three owners and has always been passed down within the family.
At the moment, the Chateau is the property of Guy Tesseron’s sons, Alfred and Gerard Tesseron. We can now confidently claim that after thirty years of managing Pontet-Canet, the Tesseron family can take pride in their achievements: they gradually modernized all the vineyards and equipment, and reconstructed all the maintenance buildings of the mansion.
Pontet-Canet Grand Cru Classe (harvest of 2005)
Grape: 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot.
Chateau Pontet-Canet of 2005 is a next-gen wine produced without any chemicals or their derivatives. In addition, Pontet-Canet does not use any herbicides (chemicals that prevent the growth of weeds and can, in small doses, stimulate the growth of plants). Vine growth here is stimulated solely by bioproducts. The biodynamic process, as it is known, serves as the basis for the Tesserons.
In Pontet-Cante, vines are fertilized with a mix of clay and cow manure. After harvesting, the wine is fermented in controlled temperatures and then aged for 20 months in oak barrels. They never use dry yeast for fermentation, making the process all natural. Few wineries adhere to these methods today, but for the Tesserons this step is a logical one. They also implement a range of other traditional methods. For example, Pontet-Canet is, in fact, the last winery in Medoc, where they do not have an electronic temperature control panel. Plus, the harvested grapes are transported by specially trained horses. Why is this? The story of the Pontet-Canet winemakers is quite interesting and progressive, as they managed to significantly improve the quality of their wine in a relatively short period of time.
Rhythm of the vine
The entire process is supervised by the experienced technician Jean-Michel Colome. The biggest difficulty Jean-Michel encounters is making sure the grape is sufficiently ripe, but not so overripe as to spoil the taste of the wine. Jean-Michel is also the lead winemaker. In other chateaus, there are two main people running the business — one supervises the vineyards, and the other manages the winery. In Pontet-Canet, monsieur Colome is the only leader. This isn’t done out of economy, but rather to ensure that the one person who cares for the vineyard all year round and understands the soil, is the one who then handles how to make wine from those grapes. Besides, he can’t ever blame anyone else for his failures.
How people cultivate grapes here can be compared to ancient methods, when winemakers aligned them with phases of the Sun and Moon, and treated the vine not just as a plant, but something with a soul, almost divine. This may seem strange to some people, but the Tesserons treat cyclic cultivation very seriously, and it helps them achieve top-quality grapes.
It is well-known that there are more and less favorable days for grapes. Although today’s methods of winemaking are universally acclaimed as very advanced, professionals admit that a lot of knowledge has been lost to time. In fact, today it is the knowledge of rhythms and cycles that remain vague to us. Winemakers noticed long ago that vines grow unevenly over time. To analyze the phenomenon of this cyclic growth, the wine experts of Pontet-Canet began to research religious rites, traditional calendars, holidays and their connection to the planets. After completing a thorough analysis, the winemakers decided to adopt some of these traditional methods.
«Here we don’t rely solely on scientific knowledge; it’s much more subtle than that. There are many more nuances compared to what we learn at school,» says Mr Colome. The Pontet-Canet of today is first and foremost a culture where the key notions are nature and a respect for wine.
«Just like a person, a vine remembers everything, like how a body never forgets its wounds,» says Alfred Tesseron. «For example, when a harvest combine gathers grape mechanically from the vineyard, it gives vines about 200 slaps per minute. Do you think the vines like that? But vines can’t speak, so we don’t pay it any mind. And vines only put out what you give them. If you surround them with love, they’ll pay you back kindly. This is how true love for grapes is expressed.»
A natural philosophy
The method used to increase the quality of Cabernet Sauvignon in Pontet-Canet is to cut off every other bunch of grapes on purpose before it’s ripe, to boost the concentration in the remaining bunches. «What we want to get here is the pure expression of Cabernet Sauvignon,» says Alfred.
He believes that it is important to find such a balance, where the plant knows itself what amount of grapes is appropriate if you are seeking quality. The wine-makers of Pontet-Canet want more than just a bigger harvest without undue stress on the vine: they do their best so the vine can find harmony itself. «We want to get to the metaphoric essence, because then a transformation occurs within,» Alfred argues.
The philosophy of Pontet-Canet is to liken the life of a vine to that of a living person. What that means is that the average life span of a vine (and not just Cabernet Sauvignon) is the same as an average person’s life span — around 70 years. Maitre Colome believes that a 20-year-old vine is as young as a person of the sane age: it has lots of energy, but the result isn’t outstanding. After the 20-year threshold, the vine grows wiser. «I think that the ideal age for a vine is 30-35 years,» says Alfred Tesseron. «A person of this age has a lot of energy, but at the same time a great deal of experience, culture and wisdom has already been accumulated. After 40, the amount of energy diminishes, but the wisdom level keeps growing. In this period, some vines might only be producing one bunch of grapes, but it is absolutely stunning. It’s the same with workers: a good worker might do very little, but still achieve spectacular results.»
«Watching a vine is quite interesting, because it is capable of accumulating information and has a very good memory,» says Jean-Michel Colome. «If you don’t cut a winter vine, it remembers everything. Which means that its fruit comes out in a different way. We make observations and write down notes to get ready for next year.»
Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux is the hardest variety to work with. And it is even harder to understand, as hardly anybody has ever investigated its ecstatic qualities. The philosophy Jean-Michel Colome applies here will bear fruit in 10-20 years. The wine he makes will be evaluated not by him, but by the people after him.
The second wine of Pontet-Canet: Les Hauts de Pontet
Starting in 1982, Pontet-Canet has been producing its second wine, Les Hauts de Pontet. Understanding the second wine of a winery is an important task for a sommelier. Traditionally, many of them treat the second wine as something mediocre, made from grapes that weren’t good enough for the first wine or from leftovers. This might have been true 20 years ago, but not today.
The second wine of Pontet-Canet is a special product with a unique character. Critics also pay special attention to this second wine. Robert Parker gave the second wine of Pontet-Canet from 2005 a rating of 91, which is higher than many first wines of other wineries received from him.
Learning about the second wine is important because it demonstrates the attitude of the winemaker to his work, and reveals more information about the true nature of the first wine. In fact, the first wine of Pontet-Canet is to be consumed not before 2012. Meanwhile, the second wine is perfectly ready to be consumed two to three years later, as its texture has less tannins.
And the preparation of this wine is a lot simpler. Second wines don’t demand decantation (purification from fallout). They need only be aerated (naturally enriched with oxygen).
A person’s understanding of a chateau would be incomplete without an understanding of its second wine, if it exists. In addition, such wine can often be even more interesting, and their price may correspond to that of Les Crus Bourgeois de Medoc, i.e. wines that weren’t included in the classification of 1855 because of a lower quality of terroir, despite the fact that this criterion is subjective.
The wide expanse of Tesserons’ vineyards stretch southwards. The area is located in the central part of a plateau in Pauillac, on typical soil of quaternary pebble overlaying a layer of clay and limestone substratum. The soil is warm and has good drainage. This allows the chateau to make wine of a deep, dark red, almost black color. The bouquet of wines of this terroir have a particular combination of hints of blackberries (especially blackcurrant), licorice, prune, figs, cedar and cocoa.
A vintage is a wine made from grapes of the harvest of a single year. The vintage from 2005 was particularly exceptional. It coincided with the start of our new approach in Chateau Pontet-Canet.
Behind the history of each bottle, there is always an enologist, or a specialist in wine and winemaking. The consulting enologist of Pontet-Canet is the famous Michel Rolland, a man who certainly needs no introduction!
Chateau Pontet-Canet of 2005 is a classic example of Bordeaux, with hints of forest berries that will gradually transform into the notes of a cigar box over time. However, it is important for a sommelier to remember, that when they present a big and intense wine, its taste and smell will transform in the process of drinking due to some subtleties in human perception. That is why it can be risky to suggest how a person will perceive the taste and aroma of a wine like Chateau Pontet-Canet of 2005, making style an important element for such a wine. Style determines its character, which in its turn defines its taste and flavor. It’s very dangerous to evaluate the taste of wine without developing it properly. There can also be a difference between wine professionals and amateurs.
One needs to learn patience to experience the true taste of Chateau Pontet-Canet. Don’t assess its taste before it develops fully and leaves an aftertaste. It’s a very opulent wine, and one need to put every effort into understanding and feeling it. I would recommend to accompany this wine only with very light snacks.
A particularly well-suited match for it is one of the oldest French cheeses, soft Brie, with its sweet, salty taste and nuttiness. Here a sommelier gets the chance to present one of the most exquisite cheeses from both our times and the Middle Ages (see Cheese Chapter in this issue).
The task of a sommelier is to get the person ready for taste, not impose it. If the client is interested in a particular taste, the sommelier must present the classic image of a wine and lead the customer to its taste, starting from showing the outward appearance of the wine, or rather its light.
Offering to smell the wine is prohibited before demonstrating it against light. Among other things, the light demonstration helps to tune in to the wine and fill the room around it with its smell. Taking into account that there will probably be outside smells in the room, this prevents a sudden jump into experiencing the flavor of the wine.
A wine’s aroma must correspond to its appearance. Only then can we proceed to taste the wine. Ask the taster to take a big sip and hold the wine in their mouth for at least 10 seconds. Guide the clients, but don’t overwhelm them.
The power of Chateau Pontet-Canet is straightforward, but its taste can be controversial. This wine must be carefully analyzed. The sommelier himself must analyze the wine first, and then rely on his experience. Try to avoid serving wine if you haven’t tasted it personally first and have not yet learned what the experts think about it.
Serving Chateau Pontet-Canet
Serving this wine is simple: create an axis and arrange everything else around it. A white tablecloth, the glass and bottle itself can play the role of the axis. The task of the remaining background is just not to interfere.
The Wine Doctor
- April 2006, first tasting of the wine in Bordeaux: 16.5-17.5 out of 20.
- October 2007 — 18.5+/20. Another success of Chateau Pontet-Canet. This result is a lot higher than its rating after the first tasting in Bordeaux.
The Wine Spectator
- James Suckling, March 31, 2008 — 96/100. Optimal to drink after 2014.
- Robert Parker, 2008 — 96/100. The work done by Alfred Tesseron and his team in this winery starting in 1994 is simply incredible. This is, undoubtedly, an amazing result and a great product. Estimated year of ageing: 2017-2040. This wine is guaranteed to live for 40-50 years, and has all the ability in the world to become a great wine, like the old classics of 1961, 1945 and 1929.
- Roger Voss, June 20, 2006 — 92-94/100 (barrel sample). 93 — bottle sample.
Code de Vino
- Oleg Cherne — 99/100.
Apart from Chateau Pontet-Canet, Alfred Tesseron also runs another family project, the famous Tesseron cognac house. The cognacs of Tesseron have long been renowned for their superior quality. They say that Winston Churchill specifically traveled to London Savoy to buy this cognac, the only place where this rarity could be found. Robert Parker in fact gave 100 points to Tesseron XO Exception cognac in 2005, calling it both perfect and unique. The famous cellars of Alfred Tesseron contain a rare collection of cognac spirits. His leading position in the cognac industry encourages Alfred to increase the quality of his wine in Chateau Pontet-Canet: «Every single day I say to myself that since 1855 we’ve been stuck in the fifth grade of Cru because we’re surrounded by the best wineries, but we aren’t any worse than they are! We want to be on top of the pyramid of quality, so we work tirelessly towards this goal.»
Sure, it’s hard not to fall victim to an influential classification when you evaluate wine. But it also has its bright side: the price-quality ratio makes this wine available for anyone interested in enjoying its taste. It makes Chateau Pontet-Canet a real treasure for customers who don’t pay any mind to classifications. Plus, with Alfred Tesseron at the head of the winery, this wine has truly begun to ascend to its well-deserved fame.