The 2018 Pontet-Canet is made up of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Picking began on September 24 and finished on October 5; aging is in 55% oak barriques and 45% amphorae. Very deep purple-black in color, it comes rolling sensuously out of the glass with all the opulence and seduction of Cleopatra on a carpet. It emerges with flamboyant scents of crème de cassis, preserved plums and blueberry compote, and after a few moments, it bursts with nuances of molten licorice, sandalwood, Chinese five spice, candied violets, dark chocolate and dried roses, followed by underlying earthy suggestions of fallen leaves, black truffles, underbrush and wild sage. Full-bodied, wonderfully dense, rich, impossibly layered and very, very decadent, the palate delivers all it promises on the nose, with a firm, wonderfully velvety frame and finishing with epic length, a scintillating wave of freshness and a beguiling perfume. This is one for true hedonists.
“We did something wrong,” Alfred Tesseron admitted to me during my visit, in reference to their lamentably small yields for 2018. “We have to say it. 2018 is not like any vintage we’ve done before. It’s unique. To us it is very special—I can say in every way. I am not proud of the quantity, but I’m proud of the wine.”
Production is down to about one-third of a normal year, at a painfully small ten hectoliters per hectare. This was largely due to the very wet, warm start to the growing season, which caused mildew to spread throughout the vineyards in Bordeaux like wildfire. Followers of Pontet-Canet will not need to be reminded that the vineyard is 100% biodynamic. This means that it is not impossible to combat disease outbreaks, but with the subtler means that are permitted, the margin for error is very, very small.
After the early-summer bloodbath in the vineyard, Pontet-Canet did everything in their power to ensure that the quality of what little remained, remained high. From practically cradling the hand-harvested grapes as they came into the winery in tiny picking bins, to hand sorting and even hand destemming, using specially designed equipment first developed and used at Tesseron’s boutique estate in Napa, Pym-Rae.
“We used only the small fermenters this year,” he went on to tell me. “No pump-overs. Very gentle extraction—very gentle pigeage. So gentle a child could do it—but we don’t use children. Not yet!” He laughed. At least he still has his sense of humor. And he’s got a very little bit to sell of a 2018 wine that is, in the end, quite extraordinary.
A bright and open young wine with polished and soft tannins that spread out and fold into the wine, becoming barely discernible, yet the feel and beauty of them frames the wine in a beautiful way. Love the fruit and purity.
The concentration that comes from having yields of 12hl/ha is extremely clear - it makes it feel very Pauillac, again resembling as at Latour, a 2010 style in terms of its backbone and sense of hunkering down.
The fruit quality is dark and knitted, with a creamy texture if you give it a minute to settle, an obvious tannic structure and a menthol finish that lets in some juice, bramble and hedgerow pleasures. It’s clearly impressive, although I get just the slightest touch of over-concentration with hints of prune on the finish.
The small yields meant the entire process, from destemming to sorting, was done by hand (last year around 30% of the crop was treated in this way), then fermented in small 40L cement vats that had seen their first service for just part of the crop in 2017. There was huge amounts of hard work and stress to ensure that no dried grapes made it through, with no pumping over and only soft manual punch down to control extraction.
This is 100% 1st wine, same as it has been here for the past three years. 55% will be aged in new oak barrel, 45% in amphoras.
Drinking Window 2026 - 2040