Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bordeaux Day 1 Part 3

Chateau Pontet-Canet



Pontet-Canet is located in the northern part of Pauillac on the west side of the D2 neighboring first growth Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. Pontet-Canet was our last Chateau visit on this first full day in Bordeaux on the left bank in the Medoc. We were greeted that day warmly by Nathalie who was to show us around the Chateau. Nathalie had an American flag raised and was flying high that day in our honor. We were quite impressed and silently thought that their neighbors were going to get out the pitchforks (joking)! All kidding aside, it was actually a very nice gesture and surprising as I found left bank Bordelais warmer to those in the wine trade such as importers of their wines. Nathalie was working on her English and was doing a great job explaining the Chateau’s history and philosophy on wine making. Pontet-Canet stepped it up and made us feel right at home!

After brief introductions we made our way to the golf buggy and were shown the vineyards, the grounds, and more of the outside of the impressive Chateau architecture. The original Chateau was just the right side of the picture on their label (here). After years of success the grounds were built upon to include most of what you see today, the multiple facilities for vinification and the offices.

The most impressive sight on the buggy however, was the soil as it had a lasting impression on me as this was true terroir you could see and feel. The composition of sand and gravel in mounds on top of deep limestone beds could be seen as the vineyard rolled in mild peaks and troughs south from the chateau. These gravel mounds are a major part of what makes the best vineyards in the Medoc so special. I stepped out of the buggy to grab a heap of it in my hands and feel its texture in my hands. This was true terroir and the essence of what makes this such a special place in the world to make wine.

While in the vineyard we discussed how Pontet-Canet was trying to go biodynamic and was close to becoming fully certified (which they just achieved in a recent article I read). We spoke of how the cycle of nature is important to respecting the soil and the vines to ensure longevity and health of all organisms in the vineyard, not just the vines. This is a hotly debated topic these days, but take notice biodynamic is so much more than organic. Many say that a lot of it is hocus-pocus, and maybe to a degree it is, but many of the foundations of biodynamic are very healthy to the soil and anything that grows in it. I am all for it if a grower can practice bio-dynamically without making the wine significantly more expensive or more important than the main objective – absolute perfection of the vineyard fruit.

As our stay progressed, we moved inside to the fermentation room. The fermentation room was old, but in a classically beautiful way, as the room was designed by Gustave Eiffel, who of course designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The wrought iron and lattice work inside the room was quite impressive and did remind you of the Eiffel Tower. 

Next, we made our way to the second floor to taste the wines overlooking the vineyards. There we met Monsieur Alfred Tesseron who reminded me of how my father in how he walked up and down the stairs, very heavily and pronounced. We shook hands and immediately you could tell this is a man who loves this property and is proud of his wines. Monsieur Tesseron also runs a very successful, almost cult like, operation in Cognac making large and several smaller production high end Cognac. We spoke about the current state of affairs with the 2009 vintage just being heralded in the press and were expecting prices to be higher than ever. We tried the 2002 from bottle and the 2009 barrel sample. As we tasted through the wines, we shared our opinions of past vintages and current ones to drink. These days Tesseron prefers to drink the 2001 vintage and feels that 2009 is the best wine he has made to date. After tasting it we were quite impressed and feel the hype of 2009 lives up to what was in the bottle.

After tasting through we moved to the station where the grapes come in during harvest and are put through a strict sorting regimen to only allow the best bunches and then after de-stemming the best berries into the crusher. From there Nathalie showed us where the crushed grapes and juice are put into the fermentation tanks for the first fermentation from juice into wine. There are concrete and wood fermentation tanks for this process.

We then headed underground where the wines are put in new French oak barrels for the secondary, or malolactic, fermentation. The barrel room was deep and wide, filled with many barrels of the 2008 and 2009 vintages resting in the cool and damp air.

Lastly we saw the chamber at the back of the cellar that houses the library collection of Pontet-Canet. Unfortunately the oldest vintage that was remaining if my memory serves me right is the 1945 as the Nazis looted the cellar when they were occupying these lands during World War II.

If you are mulling a purchase of great Bordeaux wine, especially in Pauillac, you should look into Pontet-Canet.

2002 Chateau Pontet-Canet

Black fruits, earth, pencil lead, crushed leaves, black olives, something like I expected and typical for 2002, medium bodied with ripe and mellow tannins. Supple and clean on the palate, yet good fruit presentation, black cherry, it is showing some early signs of maturing, but in a nice way, drink now or hold for an optimal window of 5-10 years.

2009 Chateau Pontet-Canet

Pure cassis and black currants, cedar, smoky oak, some milk chocolate, even violets, 13-13.5 abv. Nice weight on the palate, not a heavy impression on palate, yet concentrated and full. Well balanced, with well integrated tannins, fruit, and acidity all working in harmony. This finished long, with velvety and silky tannins. It was amazing how young and impressive this wine already was. The wine gave you a big, sizable impression but it was not overwhelming due to the great balancing act.



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