Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tasting 4 Vintages of Pontet-Canet

I started collecting wine just as the tremendous 2000 vintage was being released, and so before I even had much experience with Bordeaux, by almost pure chance, my first serious Bordeaux cellar purchase was a couple bottles of the 2000 Pontet-Canet. How exciting its been to watch the ascendance of this 5th Growth since then, and how lucky I've felt to have those bottles in the cellar, with all the talk of Pontet-Canet having become a "super-second" with the 2005 vintage, and even the lesser vintages becoming more expensive than the 2000 was on release. The story of this chateau is well-known now: its location right next to Mouton-Rothschild, and how it was considered one of the top estates in the early 19th century; its slow decline to rock-bottom during the Cruse scandal of the 1970s; and finally how the Tesseron family painstakingly revived it over two decades, preparing it for its meteoric rise that started in the mid-1990s. Given my experience with the 1970 (below), it is clear that even at its lowest ebb, there was greatness lurking here. I've had the pleasure to taste more wines from Pontet-Canet than from any other Bordeaux estate, and the style has become familiar: dense, dark, tarry, firm. Some say Pontet-Canet now resembles St.-Julien more than Pauillac, and they may be right, but what it is for certain is a great example of a modern claret that has not sold its soul like many others.

A couple weeks ago, I organized a wine dinner featuring the 1970 and the 2002 vintages of the Grand Vin, and the 2000 of Let Hauts (which in a vintage like 2000 is practically a grand vin itself):

Chateau Pontet-Canet, Pauillac 1970
Base neck fill. Medium-dark garnet; good color! Very nice old Bordeaux nose, savory, and with glycerin showing. A succulent palate, with cherry/raspberry, cassis, and a bit of tar. Medium-full bodied. Opens and grows very nicely in the glass. Still has good fruit, with nice tone and structure; one can sense the intense 1970 structure this would once have had. Near the end of its very mature prime, but can probably hold at this level for a few more years; this wine is in great shape for its age. Quite a treat, and a consummate match to Julia Child's Boeuf Bourgignon! Excellent (87 - 90). [7/9/10]

Les Hauts de Pontet-Canet, Pauillac 2000
Medium dark ruby. Nose a bit funky and not much on the palate at first, but with time in the glass, it opens beautifully. Cherry/raspberry, cassis, tar/dark fruit, lots of mineral, hints of herbs, and hints of pencil lead. Succulent. Compared to the 1970 Pontet-Canet grand vin tasted just before, this drinks like a much younger version of the same wine, and seems to confirm the similarity between the two vintages (how nice to get to compare the two). In addition, nearly equal in quality to the 2002 Pontet-Canet grand vin tasted just after. Approachable now with air, but better in 3 - 5 years, and should drink nicely until 2020 or so. 2000 shows its depth here! Excellent / Exceptional (89 - 91). [7/9/10]

Chateau Pontet-Canet, Pauillac 2002
Decanted 2 1/2 hours, and needed further time in the glass to open (nose a bit funky at first). Opaque ruby. Excellent, dense, rich nose. Cherry, blackberry, cassis, tarry/leathery notes, a hint of roasted herb/tobacco, and a hint of pencil lead/mineral. Full bodied, ripe, and dense, with good tone. Needs time, perhaps another 5 years, and shouldlast last until 2020 - 2025. Quite an impressive performance from this maligned vintage, and for under $40, a very impressive value as well. Exceptional (90 - 93). [7/9/10]

And as chance would have it, I had also had the opportunity to taste the 2003 in May:

Chateau Pontet-Canet, Pauillac 2003
Decanted for over an hour. Dark, warm ruby; impressive color. Great nose!!! Black cherry, blackberry, juicy red currant, cassis, some floral notes, and a touch of citrus, with tobacco, a hint of pencil lead, mineral, roasted herbs, roasted meat, and espresso. Ripe, but not overly so, and there is a LOT of tannin hiding underneath. Has 2003 warmth, but with the tannin, density, and acidity to balance it. This is a wine you need to swirl in your mouth to perceive how well constituted it is under the ripe fruit. Approachable now and very pleasurable to drink, but will only get better, and I dare say it will achieve a more classical Bordeaux balance in its maturity. Has up to 20 years ahead of it; when will it hit its peak? Not sure - perhaps in 10 years. A lot of potential here. Extraordinary (93 - 95). [5/13/10]

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Chateau Talbot, St. Julien 2001

This wine helped in resolving a long standing family dispute over wine. For years, my wife claimed that Bordeaux can't meet the standards of our favorite wine region: Piedmont. Knowing her taste, the main point was around how Masculine are the wines (or the more feminine/elegant nature of a lot of Bordeaux wines that we had). Comes Talbot 2001 to show that the combination of masculine and elegant wines is not unique to Piedmont or Italy in general.

Chateau Talbot, St. Julien 2001
Started with excellent fruit: blueberries, black current later reveled earth and minerals with just a good hint of green notes. Masculine wine with an excellent elegant finish. Excellent / Exceptional (89 - 91)