On the Trail

King of the Fifth Growths

David Driscoll
The view of Pontet-Canet's vineyards from the tasting room

The view of Pontet-Canet's vineyards from the tasting room

When you talk to Château Pontet-Canet owner Alfred Tesseron about his wines, he'll inevitably lead all conversations back to the soil and the location of the property itself—the terroir of Pauillac. His belief in the potential of Pontet-Canet's vineyards is evident in the changes he's continued to make since taking over management of the château, from the introduction of bio-dynamic farming, to horse-drawn ploughs instead of tractors, to natural yeast fermentation, to gravity-flow winemaking that avoids bruised skins during production. Few big name châteaux in Bordeaux follow such hippie-dippie protocol as strictly as Tesseron, but it's all for good reason: the vineyards at Pontet-Canet have always had the capability to produce world-class claret, it's just that they needed the proper treatment. Back in the mid-19th century when the original classification of Bordeaux's properties took place, Pontet-Canet was not in top form and thus the estate was placed into the fifth tier of châteaux, far less than we think of the wine today. With the 2009 vintage, Tesseron's mission to maximize his vineyard's potential was finally recognized on the world stage when esteemed critic Robert Parker declared it a masterpiece and bestowed it with a 100 point rating (while slyly mentioning that Pontet-Conet's vineyards are adjacent to Mouton Rothschild). Today I know very few people in the industry who even discuss the château's fifth growth status because of how irrelevant in today's market. 

K&L owner Clyde Beffa Jr. with Alfred Tesseron at the château in 2016

K&L owner Clyde Beffa Jr. with Alfred Tesseron at the château in 2016

As one can imagine, a block of vineyards sitting "adjacent" to one of the world's most renowned producers—a first growth château—makes one wonder about the difference in quality, price, and flavor in each bottle. Seeing that we just recently received a shipment of library wines from Pontet-Canet, bargains from the underrated 2006 and 2007 vintages, I started mulling over a few cellar purchases of my own using its esteemed neighbor as a comparison. For example, I could spend $600 for a single bottle of the 2006 Mouton Rothschild, or I could buy five bottles of the 2006 Pontet-Canet for the same price (and the reviews aren't that far off from one another). The same comparison holds true in 2007, except that I can get six of the 2007 Pontet-Canet for one 2007 Mouton (and more than one major critic scored the 2007 Pontet-Canet higher than the 2007 Mouton). The thing you have to understand about Pontet-Canet's modern era is that there are no bad wines. Because of Alfred Tesseron's confidence in his wine, he's often one of the first to release his pricing for each vintage. As one of the largest classified producers in the Mèdoc, and one of the most respected, the wine is often a bellwether of what's to come; hence, why his pricing carries so much weight. If Alfred launches at $120, the second growths release at $150 believing their higher ranking justifies the extra cash. That's beginning to change, however. Pontet-Canet's track record over the last decade shows a string of stellar releases that often dwarf the efforts of higher-ranked properties. The truth is: as its reputation for quality continues to rise, so will its prices. 

When you can get near first growth quality for high-level fifth growth pricing, you know you've stumbled across a bargain. Make no mistake about it: the ability to purchase any modern vintage of Ponet-Canet for under $100 is luxury we'll remember fondly a decade from now. 

-David Driscoll