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BFWE 2010: Château Pontet-Canet

Decanter Bordeaux Fine Wine Encounter Masterclasses - 3: Château Pontet-Canet.

Alfred Tesseron

The rise and rise of Pauillac Fifth Growth Pontet-Canet has been one of the stories of Bordeaux in recent years – so who better than château owner Alfred Tesseron to tell its story?

Amid a tasting of 12 spellbinding vintages from 1990 to 2008, this was a packed masterclass to remember, peppered with Alfred’s trademark pithy comments and witty anecdotes.

It’s 35 years now since Alfred’s father Guy, a self-confessed Pauillac lover, took over the property, adding to the family’s existing business crafting fine aged Cognacs.

But the mid-1970s was not the easiest time for Bordeaux or Cognac, and it was some years before the family could afford to make the changes necessary to elevate Pontet-Canet’s status.

The first year of ‘working seriously’, in Alfred’s words, was 1990. In charge of the vineyards, he made his first tentative foray into green harvesting – ‘but I did not tell my father.’

Four years later, the cull of the vendange verte had become more extensive and, seeing the unwanted grapes littering the vineyard, Tesseron Snr was furious – and Tesseron Jnr nearly lost his job.

But the consequent improvement in quality won the day in the end. ‘Today my competition is with myself,’ Alfred told the masterclass. ‘Every day when I shave, I look at myself and I say what can I do to have a little something to go higher quality-wise with Pontet-Canet?’

That constant quest for improvement includes biodynamics – despite a lapse in the mildew-affected 2007 vintage – and the increasing use of horses to work the land, to avoid the soil compaction caused by modern tractors.

Alfred was only reticent when asked which vintage was his personal favourite. ‘I should let you taste because they are all my children and they are all beautiful,’ he said. ‘No, you don’t say publicly which one of your children you love the most, but you have your ideas…’

Best audience questions: Is Robert Parker a good judge of your wines?

Answer: Pontet-Canet is very lucky. We have very good marks from Mr Parker. He is to my point of view very serious. He tastes and he is a very good guide. He has his way of tasting. You may not like it, but what is good is that he is even. He can taste in the morning and in the evening, and it’s always the same.

Q: How good is 2009?

A: It’s not sold, so it’s excellent!

Best panel comment: So hard to choose one from such an entertaining masterclass… For instance, it’s not often that a château owner, in the middle of a 12-vintage vertical, says: ‘I’m not a great fan of wine tasting, to tell you the truth.’

But it has to be Alfred Tesseron’s parting invitation to the masterclass audience: ‘If you come to Pontet-Canet, tell them that you know me. I have two things that are important: I have the key to the cellar and I have a good corkscrew – and I like to use my corkscrew.’

Tasting highlight: (from the first six wines, 1990-2002): A clear majority in favour of the stunning (but still very youthful) 2000. Honourable mention to the excellent 1999, drinking very well now.

Hot topic: The status of Pontet-Canet. A Fifth Growth according to the 1855 classification, but ranked much higher by many. Does that bother Alfred Tesseron?

Pontet-Canet is a Fifth Growth. That’s life… I don’t try to position Pontet-Canet to a certain level, but the market will decide in the end.’

Richard Woodard

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