Wine Talk

Snooth User: Brad Coelho

Pauillac’s top values go head to head, Pontet Canet vs. Grand Puy Lacoste

Posted by Brad Coelho, Mar 2, 2009.

One of the advantages of setting up a vertical w/ ‘lesser’ chateau is that it is easier to incorporate the best vintages, as opposed to going the route of tasting top chateau from less than ideal years. Grand Puy Lacoste and Pontet Canet will never get the top billing of the famous firsts or super seconds in their storied commune, but they’re formidable, downright affordable Medocs that merited our attention. Our vertical encompassed top vintages, including: ’82, ’90, ’95, ’96, ’00, ’03 and ’05, which served single blind. The wines, for the most part, did not disappoint.

Pontet Canet has caught fire, beginning w/ the blockbuster ’03 vintage, and hasn’t skipped a beat from ’04-’06 under proprietor Alfred Tesseron’s guidance. Although the estate’s prices have caught up to the wine’s quality, it still represents excellent value relative to its more illustrious Pauillac neighbors. I regard the ’05 as one of top 3 or so wines of the vintage for the money, and taking into consideration how stiff the competition in ’05 is, that is some lofty praise.

That being said, my experience w/ Grand Puy Lacoste could be labeled as anemic at best. If this vertical left me w/ one prevailing conclusion, it is to drink more Grand Puy Lacoste. This estate’s wines were consistently showy, yet pure, and bested its streaky opponent in the majority of the vintages that we tasted. I don’t know if any Bordeaux fanatic would consider it to be an under the radar Chateau, but I can say one thing for sure…it is no longer just a blip on my screen.

My blind white, from the venerable Ferret estate:

I brought this for a couple reasons. First, I felt like being a bit of a weasel and tricking the crowd a bit by bringing a Burgundy (white Rhone & white Bordeaux were obvious guesses by default). Second, this is one of the final vintages made under the Ferret family label, as this estate was bought out by Domaine Jadot in ’07. The nose of subtle brioche, lanolin, honeysuckle and green fruits rose from the glass w/ brightness in pitch that sang of its structured youth. The warmth of the fig fruit enveloped the palate w/ a creamy, yet piercing profile that turned my cheeks inside out from its lively acidity. The wine finished exceptionally strong, leaving the impression of green apple skins and rocks skipping along a river stream. The ’05, Les Moulins showed beautifully, but the best is yet to come, 91+ points.

The ’82 and ’90 Grand Puy Lacoste were served side by side, and their differing characteristics revealed themselves immediately. The ’82 was aromatically brilliant, w/ a perfume of freshly cut cedar, truffles, smoky plum and cherry fruit that picked up a dusty note upon palate entry. This particular bottle revealed more evolution than the one I tasted this past Saturday, drying out a bit on the compressed finish, 88 points. The ’90, on the other hand, took a bit of coaxing to reveal its beautiful core of crème de cassis, pencil lead, crushed berry and anise. The palate was exceptionally round and full, building incrementally to the broad and persistent finish, 95 points.

The ‘95s were served side by side, beginning w/ the exceptionally pure Grand Puy Lacoste. Primary, yet fabulous, the palate revealed the essence of cherry fruit, as if each sip were the flesh of a cherry itself. The juicy, succulence of the flavors were framed by long, shapely tannins that were underscored by a flinty suggestion of minerals, 94 points. The Pontet Canet followed well, yet lacked the harmony and intrinsic beauty. Chunky and flashy flavors of seared beef, licorice root, blackberry, spice box and toasty oak screamed through the attack, but lost a bit of steam on the narrowing finish. Whether or not time will help stretch out this savory gem is debatable, 91+ points.

As we approached the 1996 vintage, we did so under a microscope, as selecting a favorite required fairly exacting science. Both were decidedly funky, w/ the Grand Puy Lacoste revealing a wild mushroom, cassis and spicy anise nose that shifted to a soft, enveloping caress on the palate. The Pontet Canet, perhaps even gamier aromatically, possessed similar supple texture but more structure, reinforcing its plumy, cocoa flavors w/ excellent freshness and length. I put them at 91 and 92 points, respectively.

We had labeled wines as A & B up to this point, but this flight had a 3rd musketeer which was dubbed as ‘?’. The first in line from the 2000 vintage was one of the biggest disappointments of the evening, with a transient nose of espresso roast & blackberry that sparked up initially, and then tucked itself away for the evening. The mouthfeel was ungenerous at best, becoming gaunt on the mid-palate, chipping away on the narrow, squat finish. Pontet Canet is certainly in a dumb phase & didn’t show me enough life to breathe much optimism into its future, 84 points? This was followed up by the exceptionally balanced, precise Grand Puy Lacoste, demonstrating that classic nose of crème de cassis just as the ’90 did. While mouth-filling and frankly opulent, the deep core of flavor never steers away from its grounded, exacting focus, 93+ points. As for the ‘?,’ it was a dark, nearly inky explosion of layer upon layer of menthol, blue and black fruits, w/ awesome palate penetration & sheer flavor authority. Perhaps in the vein of ‘under-classified’ Pauillac, Ben Goldberg tossed a 5th Growth, Lynch Bages, into the 2000 bunch, and I think it is best labeled w/ one word, powerhouse, 95+ points.

Finishing things up w/ ’03 and ’05, the vintages couldn’t have formed a starker contrast. The ’03 Pontet Canet, perhaps the vintage that put this estate on my map, still has the seething, exceptionally rich nose of black cherry liqueur, sweet earth, milk chocolate and roasted nuts that I found enticing a few years back. While the entry is creamy and fat, the palate takes a shrill turn, as the flesh that I once adored is a bit hidden, completely exposing the underbelly of the wine on the grippy, almost mouth-searing finish. The Grand Puy Lacoste’s ’03 was doomed from the start, smelling of Turley’s Juvenile Zinfandel cuvee w/ its brambly, wild berry fruit which receded in the palate faster than Andre Agassi’s hairline. At this point, the finishes are really killing the ‘03s, w/o the exuberant make-up to hide their drying, almost coarse tannic shells. Rating these wines in this state of their evolution isn’t exactly fair, but the superiority of the Pontet Canet is obvious and bears noting.

The ‘05s, crammed with potential, are going to be nothing short of breathtaking. The Grand Puy Lacoste began at a disadvantage, revealing next to nothing at first, save for the char of the new oak it was just housed in. As it sat in the glass, it remained compact, but its raw power and depth became more and more impressive, in a brooding, fascinating way, 94+ points. The Pontet Canet ’05 is a bright shining star, as everything is there, brilliant fruit, acidity and exceptionally sweet tannins that frame the package with sheer artistry. This wine is a modern classic and tastes like it has the stuff that legends are made of, 96+ points.


Reply by Rodolphe Boulanger, Mar 2, 2009.

Great post - what a tasting!

I've always been a big fan of Grand Puy Lacoste because of its ability to often produce great yet totally underrated wines. However, every once in a while, they've totally missed the mark.

A few weeks ago, I tasted the Pontet Canet 2005 at the 2006 UGC tasting - someone had sent the wrong vintage! I agree with you 100% - it is a modern classic with brilliant sweet fruit and voluptuous, evolved tannins.

As for the 2000 Lynch-Bages, that's why I've seen people start to refer to the estate's wines as Pauillac for California Cab lovers. The 2002 was a bit more restrained and elegant, but the 2000, 2001, 2003 & 2005 are not for the faint of heart. Decant and go kill and roast a wild boar before serving!

Reply by Brad Coelho, Mar 7, 2009.

Thanks RB! This tasting obviously was powered to show the best of each Chateau- and, to your point, the lesser vintages would have certainly revealed the dark side. The '05 PC is going to be an absolute classic!

To say the '00 Lynch was infanticide was an understatement...and I can certainly see why others at the table found it to be a touch much- but, like the '05 PC, the framework is all there for something special down the road.

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