Château Pontet Canet vertical 
A vertical tasting, 2000-2009, of this celebrated Pauillac (Bordeaux) property, with proprietor Alfred Tesseron


Alfred Tesseron

This was a really interesting tasting. A vertical of what is could be argued to be the Bordeaux property of the moment, Château Pontet Canet, with proprietor Alfred Tesseron, at London’s Roberson wine shop.

It has always been a family owned property. It was started by the de Pontet family, then the Cruse family (for 110 years), and most recently it was purchased by Alfred’s father Guy in 1975.

The Tesseron family began with Cognac before they took an interest in wine. ‘My father was the bright person of the family,’ says Alfred. ‘To have two interests that are different – Cognac and the Médoc – is a great thing.’

‘At the beginning, things were difficult for us. After he bought in 1975, the Cognac business was difficult, so we didn’t have the money we needed to put into Pontet-Canet. We thought we couldn’t do much at the time. There was a major crisis for wines at that time and the Médoc suffered from a lack of money.’

‘So, I suggested that we should do some work in the vineyard. It takes a few years for us to benefit, but it is solid. When you don’t have money, you think more. You look ahead. You do things step by step. We were behind, but everything we did was solid. I wanted to bring things to a certain level, but I ran into problems with my father, who had a Cognac mentality, concerned with production.’

‘It is great to work with your father, but also difficult.’ Alfred decided to go abroad, after he had studied oenology with the legendary Emile Peynaud in Bordeaux. He set of for California. ‘I was supposed to spend 6 months but I ended up staying almost 6 years.’

‘I came back from a very active country and arrived in Pauillac, a little village. The life was a total change,’ he recalls. ‘The environment in Pauillac is great, with three first growths. We had to do something for Pontet-Canet. What? Even now when we have arrived to a certain level, every day we look for little details we can improve.’

There are 81 hectares of vineyard at Pontet Canet in two blocks. In front of the property are 50 hectares, with gravelly soil, which is important because it is good for Cabernet Sauvignon. The blend, on average, is 65% Cabernet, 28% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot.

‘Deciding harvest time is important,’ says Alfred. ‘We used to decide by analyses. Now we work only by taste. A man who really helped me a lot is Michel Rolland. He helped me find out when the perfect maturity is, tasting the skins, cracking the pips and looking at the health of the vineyard. At Pontet Canet he bought us that special timing of when to pick at the perfect time. You have to be able to wait—and you have to be organized to wait.’

The Pontet Canet oak regime is modest by the standards of high-end Bordeaux. ‘I like to taste the fruit and the evolution of the fruit in time,’ says Alfred. ‘I don’t like to taste the oak.’ 2000 was 60% new oak; this is now down to 50%. 

Particular attention is paid to the vineyard, and Pontet Canet is now managed biodynamically. The first trials started in 2004. ‘It is something unusual in Bordeaux,’ admits Alfred. ‘The reason is the taste.’ 14 hectares were trialled in 2004, and immediately the wines showed better definition. ‘People thought it was for the press, like the horses,’ says Alfred. ‘I didn’t know much about organics. I thought it was about marketing bad products.’

It was in 2004 that Pontet Canet bought three horses to work the vineyards. These were Postier Breton horses from Brittany, and an over-row device was bought for the horses to pull. At the beginning there were lots of problems: for example, the soil was wearing out the horse shoes in just a week. ‘We didn’t know what we were doing but we learned,’ says Alfred. ‘Now we have 5 horses and they do 40% of the vineyard work. We are working with an architect to build a stable for 14 horses. We want to go 100% with horses.’

The wines are very consistent, but most are quite backward and in need of time. None currently shows the real excitement you might have expected.

‘As long as I am in charge at Pontet Canet we will not compromise,’ says Tesseron. ‘When you are in a place [Pauillac] where there are three first growths, it is a challenge, and it is fun.’


Château Pontet Canet 2000 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Supple and quite elegant with some spice, minerals and grippy structure. A hint of spicy oak on the nose, with some roast coffee. Youthful still, and quite tannic, with chalk and gravel notes. Still primary and focused: needs time. 91/100

Château Pontet Canet 2001 Pauillac, Bordeaux
‘This vintage was totally forgotten,’ says Alfred Tesseron. ‘People wanted 2000.’ Ripe, smooth and sweet. Quite pure, with some elegance. Fresh with some minerality and fine chalky notes. Nice red cherry and plum fruit and a bit of tannic grip. Drinking well now but will probably hold for 5 or 10 years. 93/100  

Château Pontet Canet 2002 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Quite elegant. Nice rich blackcurrant and cherry fruit. Sweet but fresh with some firm, grippy tannic structure. Very backward and tannic, but with potential. 92/100

Château Pontet Canet 2003 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Tesseron is particularly proud of this, crediting the fact that he doesn’t use herbicide, but ploughs quite deep, as helping develop deep roots that help the vines survive a hot vintage well. Quite fresh with firm tannins and good acidity. Grippy and quite dry. Nice ripe berry fruits here: not too sweet, but finishing fresh. 91/100

Château Pontet Canet 2004 Pauillac, Bordeaux
The first vintage trialling organics. Fresh and vivid with nice black cherry and plum fruit. Quite tight and tannic but with good freshness and acidity. Angular and grippy with nice freshness. Still youthful in a classic style. Grippy drying finish. Potential for further development. 92/100

Château Pontet Canet 2005 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Some ripe, sweet fruit on the nose, but also some mineral, gravelly notes. Ripe but fresh on the palate with some grippy tannins. These tannins lurk under the ripe fruit, and they are pretty firm. Blackberry, black cherry and plum notes. This needs keeping. 94/100

Château Pontet Canet 2006 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Some elegance here along with depth of fruit. Dense cherries with blackcurrant and plum, supported by spicy tannins. Nice density and concentration, with some mineral and spice. 93/100

Château Pontet Canet 2007 Pauillac, Bordeaux
This was a difficult vintage, but Tesseron has fashioned a lovely attractive wine for current drinking. Hint of roast coffee on the nose with attractive black cherry fruit. Elegant and approachable on the palate with leafy green hints. So elegant and delicious, but don’t hold it. 93/100

Château Pontet Canet 2008 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Smooth, pure, ripe nose is quite sleek and ripe, tending towards lushness. The palate has concentration and freshness, with some minerally, gravelly notes as well as a hint of chocolatey, spicy oak. Supple, fresh and finishing grippy. 92/100

Château Pontet Canet 2009 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Very ripe, sweet, lush and seductive with smooth black cherry and plum fruit. Really sweet fruit profile with a broad texture, a friendly personality and a bit of gravel and chalk minerality. Delicious, but perhaps a bit too easy? 93/100

See also:

Visiting Dourthe's Bordeaux estates (series)
1961 horizontal tasting, Bordeaux 
2000 in Bordeaux

Wines tasted 09/12  
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