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Pontet-Canet has always been a legendary Médoc. It is deep ruby-red, crimson, and sometimes almost black colour and has a characteristic bouquet of black fruit (especially blackcurrant), liquorice, and prune as well as fig, cedar, and sometimes cocoa overtones. Pontet-Canet combines power and elegance, as well as concentration and fullness on the palate. Rather sinewy in style, Pontet-Canet is clearly a classical wine with a tannic structure that provides excellent ageing potential. The château team is conscious of the fact that they are following in the footsteps of more than three centuries of tradition, with each period contributing its technical innovations in the interest of quality and in order faithfully to reflect the terroir. Château Pontet-Canet and the estate's second wine, Hauts de Pontet-Canet, are sold exclusively via the Bordeaux wine trade.
Of the 120 hectares (300 acres) estate of Pontet-Canet located in the northern end of the Pauillac commune, across the road from first growth Château Mouton Rothschild, 80 ha (200 acres) are under vine. The soil composition is mainly gravel over a subsoil of clay and limestone. The grape variety distribution is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. Vines average 35 years of age.
Pontet-Canet has one of the largest productions of any classified growth in the Medoc with a production of nearly 20,000 cases of its grand-vin, and another 20,000 cases of its second wine, Les Hauts de Pontet. Harvesting is done by hand, and after sorting the grapes are moved into the estate's gravity-feed cellars for crushing. Fermentation takes place in a mixture of concrete and stainless steel vats. Wines are aged for 16-20 months in up to 60% new oak barrels before fining with egg whites and bottling.
An early, even flowering, a warm but unspectacular summer and an exceptionally hot period during the end of August and the first half of September. It was this heat that made it possible for the record harvest to not only to fully ripen, but also to concentrate the fruit. The harvest started on September 14 and was finished before heavy rains commenced on October 2. Another reason for the success of the vintage was that most châteaux had invested in their cellars and were able to work such a large and hot harvest. It was now possible to control the fermentation temperatures better than in earlier hot vintages, such as 1947. The grapes produced wines with such high natural alcohol that chaptalization became unnecessary. They showed deep colour, high and unusually soft tannin levels and a better acidity than first thought, as well as great fruit concentration. The media hype was great, particularly thanks to the advent of new wine magazines - this was the vintage that cemented Robert Parker’s reputation. The prices rose rapidly and have not looked back since. I remember all Premier Crus (including Pétrus) being offered to end consumers for around 50 euros en-primeur in 1983.
The scene when the 1990 vintage came along was quite different. There was a surplus of very good to great wine on the market – for the first time there was talk of three great vintages following one another. This lead to most châteaux lowering their prices by about 20 per cent compared to their 1989 prices, even though the quality was outstanding. There had been a steady increase in prices during the 1980s, but they were now more or less back to the opening prices of the 1982s. It was again a record harvest, but because most châteaux had by now introduced a ‘second wine’ and due to the fact they were more selective with regards to quality, there was actually less wine being bottled as ‘Grand Vin’ than in 1982.
We have been following both these vintages from a comparatively early age, as they were both precocious and easy to drink from the start. The top wines from both vintages are spectacular, but the overall quality is much higher in 1990. Here the wines were equally successful on both sides of the river, and even minor châteaux produced something special. We have always found most 1982s from the right bank to be too alcoholic and lacking in structure; indeed many are now ageing rapidly.