Pontet-Canet ‘Saddles-Up’ in 2012

by Alexandra Fondren

In a variable vintage like 2012, it’s often hard to find consensus on which appellations and wines showed best. Our first official day tasting up and down the Haut Medoc proved no different, with some very spirited debates regarding the success of several big name properties. One estate that proved incapable of rousing much controversy, however, was Pontet-Canet.

Probably one of “the” wines of the Left Bank in 2012, the majority of us left impressed with what the chateau was able to achieve given the hand it was dealt. But after visiting, it was clear (as is always the case with Pontet-Canet) that this success was no mere accident.

Proprietor Alfred Tesseron is on a mission to provide a world class wine that also adheres to his environmental ethics. It was under his stewardship when the 5th growth became the first major Bordeaux property to gain organic certification. He turns to his long-time winemaker, Jean-Michel Comme, (a 22-year veteran of the estate) to not only make the wine, but also to head a program of certified organic and biodynamic viticulture on the property. Comme is credited with the introduction of the horse-powered vineyard equipment and renewed focus on ‘vine-identity’ that has helped take this estate to soaring new heights over the last decade.

Both agree that this biodynamic spirit of innovation is what sets Pontet-Canet apart in more difficult vintages like 2012. Comme believes that when conditions are harder, biodynamics provides solutions that are unavailable to other properties. Better to be biodynamic when the conditions are not perfect. But when conditions are perfect, he claims the result too will be perfect – “with no work”.
Pontet-Canet has always led the charge in Bordelaise innovation – and they spare no expense in doing so. The concrete ‘egg’ tanks they experimented with last year were nowhere to be found this time around. Instead, the duo designed an intriguing new model of amphorae vessels, specifically for Pontet-Canet. 35% of the estate’s 2012 wine will never see oak, and will instead become the product of these uniquely shaped ‘pods’. Crafted from gravel that was mixed with clay and limestone from the vineyards, Comme and Tesseron’s artisanal philosophy seems to touch every technical decision they make.

This vintage, however, took some work. 250 people were brought in to work harvest so that there would be enough vineyard workers on hand to bring grapes in quickly – specifically to avoid the effects of rain and achieve the ripeness of fruit that is now evident in the wine.

Several of us were fortunate enough to visit the chateau for lunch, where the estate’s cult popularity was on full display. The otherwise quiet property was bustling with the throngs of visitors in attendance, but there was still an impressive amount of personal attention.  It was an amazing contrast to be reminded how consistently impressive the wine is, even though it’s produced on such an incredibly large scale.
And the wine speaks for itself. Already very complex, it had a solid structure and density of fruit that many of its vintage peers up to that point seemed to lack. One of my colleagues noted that even at such a delicate young age it almost seemed to be gasping for air. The last sip was certainly the best, and the sample was opened only when we arrived. It was most certainly a brooding, modern wine, but one that was also integrated, incredibly balanced and not lacking for anything. The finish was one of the longest on the Left Bank.

Lunch was fantastic, with spring foie torchon followed by braised beef cheeks. But the focus of the meal was definitely on the cheese buffet that took up the entire length of the room. Five people at different stations were on hand-cutting duty, explaining the 40-plus different cheeses. The raw milk cheeses you can’t get in the US were definitely a highlight, but after sampling the fresh ‘Brebis’ (sheeps milk cheese topped with your choice of olive oil or confiture), the sweetness of the jam was such a note of perfection, many of us passed on dessert.

Alfred Tesseron hosted with amazing energy, though he also let the wine speak for itself.  Seeing him float from table to table, his passion for what he does was on full display. He clearly is a man who likes to connect – whether with his vineyards, his wine, or with those who merely appreciate his approach. He didn’t offer any more information than what was asked. Alfred knew what was in the bottle would steal the show, and his confidence in Pontet-Canet seeped through every aspect of the experience from the moment we walked in the door. Rightfully so.

Look out for 2012 futures coming soon. But while you wait, check out our current stock of Pontet-Canet at JJBuckley.com.