Respect for the vineyard and terroir perhaps reaches its apex at Château Pontet-Canet, the large Pauillac estate that lies just across from Mouton-Rothschild. The first Bordeaux great growth to become fully biodynamic – the holistic philosophy that seeks long-term balance in the vineyard and the cellar – the approach has undoubtedly allowed Pontet-Canet to take on an increasingly pure, beautiful expression, reminiscent of the very finest grand cru Burgundy. These are the qualities that spring to mind when tasting their 2013.
While biodynamics leaves the vigneron necessarily more open to the vagaries of the weather, the estate argues that it was the year itself, and the bad weather at flowering in particular, that was real fly-in-the-ointment in 2013. Coulure on the Merlot was a real problem. Whatever the precise causes, overall production in 2013 was extremely low here, 50% lower than 2012 in fact, a miserly 15hl/ha.
In that context it is perhaps understandable that Château Pontet-Canet held its 2013 prices at the same level as 2012, €60 a bottle ex-negociant. Still the decision to release the wine before primeurs week had begun was, shall we say, a little unfortunate. If you’d spoken to any wine merchants at the time [and quite a few proprietors], you’d realise I’m being extremely polite. They were seething. Still, what’s done is done, I guess. All this will be most likely forgotten ten years down the track when 2013 Pontet-Canet is in its prime. We’ll probably also have forgotten just how tricky the vintage was by then too.
Tasting at Pontet-Canet back in April I had the pleasure of an in-depth conversation with Jean-Michel Comme, the technical manager at Pontet-Canet. He feels that 2013 for them, despite all its troubles, was perhaps the first vintage to fully express all their biodynamic efforts. He believes the vineyard has now found its own way. They didn’t pull and tug the vines this way and that throughout the season. There was no de-leafing, no shoot thinning, no green harvest. The balance was, to a far greater degree than ever before, natural. It was the vines ‘memory’ that took over if you like, gained over the proceeding period of biodynamic preparation.
In the cellar they are also looking at increasing neutrality. This year only 50% of the crop will see new oak, and one third will be aged in new conical concrete amphorae. These are updated versions of their James Cameron-Alien styled ‘egg’ shaped cuves, with the new conical shape giving less lees contact. Jean-Michel Comme wondered, perhaps prophetically, whether one day they could move away from oak ageing altogether and gain the greatest purity of expression for the estate.
There is no doubt that they are up to fascinating stuff here. Their approach feels sincere and honest. And the proof is certainly in the pudding. For me I thought the wines were better here in 2012 and 2011 [especially] but there is no doubt that 2013 Pontet-Canet is a real success for the vintage – despite all the hullabaloo about the price and its release
Château Pontet-Canet was tasted on Friday, April 4, 2014.
Château Pontet-Canet, Grand Cru Classé, Pauillac
Deep and earthy purple; attractive fruit; ripe; red fruits; caressing quality to the palate; very pure and Burgundian in style; what it lacks in depth it makes up for in delicacy; good length at the end. Sincere wine. Yields astonishingly low – crop half the normal in 2013. [65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, 50% new oak, 15hl/ha]. Drink 2018-2030. 90-92+