2009 Ch. Pontet-Canet … moving on up

Chateau Pontet-Canet released their 2009 vintage yesterday: one of the most eagerly awaited wines of 2009, one of Parker’s favourites (97-100) and undoubtedly one of the wines of the vintage.  The UK merchant with the biggest allocation released the wine at £900 per dozen in bond, with orders limited to six bottles per customer on account of overwhelming demand.  The wine has already traded at £1050 per dozen on Liv-ex.

For those fairly new to the wine market none of this is particularly remarkable: brilliant wine from brilliant vintage gets high Parker points, is in demand and both expensive and hard to buy.  This is not news.  But if you’ve been buying decent wine for a while, you might just have bought the 2004 (lovely, and a perfect expression of this fresh, pure vintage) for £240 per dozen, the 2005 (again one of the wines of the vintage, so much concentration that you get two bottles in one) for £480 per dozen.  If you’re a proper old boy wine buyer you might have paid £130 or so for a case of the 1994, which was the first vintage of this wine for some time that really showed what the property could do.  This, and most particularly the 2004 price, puts things into perspective.

A key problem of judging value in the fine wine market is that so much judgement is “relative”.  Just wait for the release of 2009 Cos d’Estournel and Pontet-Canet will seem a bargain.  Wait for the releases of the first growths and Cos will look cheap, etc, etc.  The chateaux play this game too, and those that see themselves as being at the same level as Pontet-Canet will price their wines accordingly, no matter how much of a multiple this is of their 2008 price.  Expect some very pricey Leovilles, etc, over the next few days and weeks.

But back to Pontet: I do think this wine worth it, intrinsically as opposed to just relatively – I don’t have a problem with the price.  As far as the market is concerned, I think they’ve got it about right, even perhaps a little soft.  There may be all sorts of bitching on the wine forums but, if a product sells, and sells so well that sales have to be restricted, then there is every argument that the price is actually too low, not too high – the problem isn’t the price of the product, it’s just that the would-be buyer is now priced out.  This is just the way of the world.  As far as the wine is concerned, there is no question that this has every potential to be a legend.  The wine is worth a grand a case and more.

Unsurprisingly, though, I do have a problem.  I have a sort of romantic attraction to Pontet, for many reasons.  I knew that this chateau was on the up when others didn’t ( I remember showing the 1996 at tastings ten years ago).  I’ve always had a soft spot for one of the (female) Tesserons.  I’ve a different kind of soft spot for the horses, and I still have a picture in my head of Alfred Tesseron surveying his vineyards from the top floor of the chai, with a dreamy look in his eye, with me thinking: I believe in this man, this place…

But there’s little room for romance in Bordeaux.  It’s about the cash and always has been.  There is no reason for this brilliant property to sell ten pound notes for a fiver each, and they know it.  There is also no reason for the Bordelais to sell their wines to the traditional markets for a fiver a case when the new markets will pay a grand.

So, Pontet-Canet has climbed the ladder and is no longer a wine that I can afford.  Pontet-Canet has joined the elite, made it.  It’s a bit like when an old girlfriend gets married.  Yes: she’s done well.  Always knew it:  happy for her, lovely bloke – doctor, good-looking.  Parents rich as Croesus.  Good show all round.   But still a silent goodbye …