On the Trail

Priming for Pontet-Canet

David Driscoll

As I've mentioned before in previous posts about Bordeaux's 2015 en primeur week, pricing was the number one topic of discussion in between sips and swirls this year. After a few days of tasting we knew the quality was there. The vintage had delivered and the fruit and freshness of the wines were generally superb. Now what would they cost? That's half the fun of tasting the newest harvest before it's released! You have to play a guessing game and temper your enthusiasm. The more you say you like the wine, the more emboldened the producer might become. Clyde made sure he mentioned that to all of us. "We need to stay on them," he repeated. "We need reasonable prices this year." At no point was this conversation more astute than while we stood around the table at Château Pontet-Canet. Alfred Tesseron and his Pauillac property have a history of releasing first and releasing big. He generally likes being quick to market and setting the pace for the marathon that is the Bordeaux futures campaign. Clyde was prepping himself for the big talk. Reasonable, reasonable, reasonable, I heard him muttering.

I wandered over to the window to have a look at the estate. The vineyards expand to roughly 200 acres of top-class terroir, gravel-dominated soils that produce epically-powerful cabernet blends. Pontet-Canet is one of the largest classified producers in the Mèdoc, as well as one of the most respected, which is part of the reason their pricing carries so much weight; it's often a bellwether of what's to come. I spotted a horse-drawn carriage ploughing a row of vines in the distance, remembering that Pontet-Canet had gone not only organic, but also bio-dynamic with its vineyard practices. Alfred Tesserson truly wants his estate to produce a pure and unadulterated wine. In 1999, he even designed a new vessel for carrying the grapes from the vineyards to the crush pads that minimized the amount of bruising and splitting in the fruit, preventing early oxidation before pressing. The man takes his winemaking quite seriously. I was waiting to see how he would respond to Clyde's pep talk.

Finally Alfred himself appeared in the tasting room and a barrel sample of the 2015 Pontet-Canet was presented to our table. "We're going to be reasonable this year, right?" Clyde said with a big grin. "Of course," was Alfred's response. "We are always reasonable, Clyde. You know that." So much for softening the big guy up! The wine was everything one expects from Pontet-Canet in a classic vintage: power, grace, richness from oak, and finesse from the tannins. Rather than the fresh and vibrant red fruits we tasted in some of the leaner and more youthful clarets, the 2015 Pontet-Canet was a dark pool of black fruits with a rounder, more opulent mouthfeel. "How much are we selling the 2012 vintage for?" I whispered to Alex while we stood there. "Let me check," he responded as he pulled up the K&L site on his phone. $99.99 was the answer. "If this comes out anywhere near that price we're in good shape," I said. We crossed our fingers and hoped Alfred would give us something to be excited about.

Then today the news came from France: we would be launching the 2015 Pontet-Canet for a solid $104.99, far lower than we had expected and only a marginal increase from the 2014 cost despite the vastly-improved quality of the wine. I could feel the sigh of relief in Clyde's email this morning. It's looking good for Bordeaux so far. If Alfred Tesseron's history of trend-setting continues, we just might see "reasonable" return to the Mèdoc. Maybe you can thank Clyde for that. He was truly relentless.

-David Driscoll