Pontet-Canet declassification a mystery?

The Tesseron family claims to remain in the dark surrounding the rejection of the 2012 vintage of its second wine by the AOC board but there are, unconfirmed, theories which point to a variety of factors from biodynamics to the new amphorae.

Jean-Michel Comme shows off Pontet-Canet's amphorae

Jean-Michel Comme shows off Pontet-Canet’s amphorae

It was reported last week that the 2012 vintage of Pontet-Canet’s second wine, Les Hauts de Pontet-Canet, had been refused AOC classification by an independent tasting panel.

As a result, the wine will have to be bottled as a Vin de Table rather than a Pauillac.

The news caused surprise in many quarters of the trade and led to much speculation as to what might have been the reason; vintage conditions and the much heralded use of amphorae – first used for the 2012 vintage – all being touted as potential causes of the upset.

Responding to questions from the drinks business, Melanie and Alfred Tesseron, who run the fifth growth Pauillac estate, both stated they still do not understand the rejection but that it has not damaged the wines’ image among négociants and merchants handling the wine, “99.9% of our merchants confirmed their orders having re-tasted the wine since the judgment,” reported Alfred.

Despite their “utter astonishment” at the decision of the panel, Melanie said that they remain “proud” of the wine and even mentioned: “It’s becoming fast a collector’s item!”

However, a hint that the estate’s biodynamic winemaking and atypical use of amphorae contributed to the tasting panel rejecting the wine on the basis of it not displaying sufficient Pauillac “typicité”, was made by Alfred.

He said: “Maybe the fact that we are organic and biodynamic makes our wine different?”

Although it is not in any way confirmed, this blog (in French) by journalist Vincent Pousson lays out several plausible possibilities, not least that a combination of sometimes tricky vintage conditions, biodynamics and the use of amphorae contributed to a slightly elevated level of volatile acidity in the wine.

As he says: “If an excess of volatile acidity is the cause of the declassification, it must just be at the legal limit allowed for a Vin de France, which is to say 20 milliequivalents per litre.”

With the upper limit for AOC Pauillac being 16.33 milliequivalents per litre, of which 0.98 grams per litre can be acetic acid (0.80 grams per litre as H2SO4), the margins are really quite small indeed.

“Is it possible?” asked Pousson. “Yes, why not. We’re in the Médoc in a ‘complicated’ vintage”. That difficulty gave rise to grey rot, particularly on late-ripening varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon.

Grey rot, mixed with certain parasitic yeasts, can give rise to elevated acidity levels in musts.

Being a biodynamic wine in a largely conventional line-up can also make a wine stick out like a sore thumb and appear atypical.

For tasters used to wines made in a conventional style, continues Pousson, “a slightly elevated volatility, a ‘bio style’ can unseat, shock and, eventually, elicit a rejection.”

Finally, there is the use of amphorae. These clay jars, famously used in Georgia and taken up by numerous winemakers around the world – usually biodynamic in practice – were brought in at Pontet-Canet in time for the 2012 vintage and as part of a plan to use less wood in the winemaking process as Alfred told db at the time.

However, the use of amphorae can also contribute to increased levels of volatile acidity (0.2g/l on average apparently).

Sadly, the Tesserons declined to directly answer db’s questions about whether the amphorae may have had an impact on the resulting wine which led to the jury’s decision and whether their use merely requires time to master or a thorough overhaul.

If not a winemaking issue, has the use of unorthodox practices such as amphorae or the estate’s breaking of ranks in this year’s en primeur campaign ruffled feathers in the wrong quarters?

It is possible that neither party will choose to talk on the matter and it will remain one of the unanswered questions of the Bordeaux trade, subject only to speculation and whispered half-truths.

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