It was a brutally cold, windy, and rainy day in Pauillac when I visited Chateau Pontet Canet with other students from The Wine & Spirits MBA. But as I stood in front of a big picture window listening to Vigneron Jean Michel Comme speak about his struggles to create a biodynamic wine in Bordeaux's Left Bank, it was obvious there was something very special in this quietly humble man and the wines he oversees.
Obviously, I'm not the only one who thinks so. Robert Parker, the great wine critic, has given Pontet Canet some of his highest accolades ever, including back to back 100 point (Perfect) scores for the 2009 and 2010 vintages.
Those aren't the wines we're discussing here. We're discussing the 2007 and the 2008. We're also discussing the French concepts of 'Vin de Plaisir" and "Vin de Garde."
2007 was the year that challenged Jean Michel Comme and Pontet Canet. The weather conditions conspired against biodynamics and Comme felt like he had squandered the opportunity given him, but the owner of the vineyard. And yet the wine is magnificent. Why was he so disappointed?
Chateau Pontet Canet 2007 Pauillac. $129.99 OH Retail. "A purity to the red fruit that is almost magical in its beauty and intensity. A pretty jellied richness marinading fresh cut herbs and bright fresh fruits. A long finish is well cut tannins that lasts almost a minute." 95 points.
2008 was a tight classic vintage in Bordeaux that didn't get a lot of respect in its youth because the wines were tight and need considerable cellaring.
Chateau Pontet Canet 2008 Pauillac. $129.99 OH Retail. "A beautiful red crimson color. Dense, brooding, and primary. Almost opaque in its power and tightness. A forever wine meant for the cellar and consumption and lifetime from now." 95 points.
Here is the interesting question and the crux of this article. How can two vintages of the same wine, using identical winemaking technique, have such completely different taste profiles and yet be the same quality?
It comes down to Plaisir vs Garde. The French parse all wine down to two categories.
Plaisir (or pleasure wines) are ones that give immediate enjoyment. They are often fruit-forward, generous, and hedonistic.
Garde (or 'to keep') are wines that will benefit from considerable time in the cellar. They often produce more classic, traditional flavors and profiles. Cellar wines also achieve a longevity and levels of complexity that Plaisir wines can't approach.
Which is better? As usual, it depends. Garde wines often reach higher levels of technical proficiency and complexity, but require time and proper cellaring to get there. Plaisir wines can be enjoyed tonight.
What's the takeaway here? When you are seeking out a premium high-quality wine (and spending some serious money,) vintage won't necessarily speak to the wine's quality. It will, more likely tell you something about which style of wine you are going to get.
- Video Interview with Randall Grahm on Biodynamic Wine Making
- Video Interview with Rebecca Work of Ampelos on Biodynamics vs Organic