Synthetic First Growth: 2007 Château Pontet Canet

Monday, November 26, 2012 9:19 PM


Gah! There goes the phone again. Hello. Good Morning. How are you doing today? There’s no mistaking it, our anniversary sale is on!!!The reaction is typical – phones ringing, incoming emails and online orders, and customer visits. Yep, the sale has begun. While we frantically do our best at helping you all select the best sale wines for you and your respective budgets, please allow me to shine a light on a particular sale wine that has me scratching my head thinking, “Hmmm. Remember the time Chuck asked me to help him buy a gift for JT, and we selected a 1983 Latour for less than $100?” Yes, I hate being one of those geezers who says, “I remember when this used to cost …”, but I do. First Growth Bordeaux for less than $100; I remember. A Fifth Growth is not a First Growth, no argument there. But those cloaked appraisers of numerical Growth status came to their conclusions sans the commercial availability of the light bulb. Though the famous 1855 classification still stands (with only 1 change in 1973), the quality and price points of the various wines are not necessarily beholden to a consensus formed when Franklin Pierce was president. Which leads me to divulging WHY I am choosing to point out that the 2007 Château Pontet Canet could very well be the superstar of our 35th Anniversary Sale. For several vintages now, I have referred to Pontet Canet as a “synthetic First Growth.”



Why a “synthetic First Growth?” I’ll try to spare you all the long story, but in a past life, I toiled on the Pacific Exchange Options Floor. For us math geeks, there were a myriad of interesting positions one could trade into using calls, puts, and the underlying stock. Using the right combination of 2 components, one can create a long or short position in the third. Those are known as “synthetic” positions; they are every bit as profitable (or losing) as it would be if you had a position in the real thing … blah, blah, blah. Sorry.



I’m not rebellious by nature, but when I see something one way, and the “official source” declares it otherwise, I usually stick with my observation. I have plenty of baseball scoresheets marking hits that were “officially” scored errors, and vice-versa. I’ll tip my cap to, and continue to try to memorize the 1855 classification, but let’s face it, that was 1855, man. I’m not building a case ready to reclassify the Médoc, I just want to point out that there is still First Growth quality Bordeaux out there for less than $100.


The reason for Pontet Canet’s climb to the upper echelon of Paulliac producers is Alfred Tesseron. Since he took over the château in 1994, they have been making better and better wine every year. They have certainly beenregularly outperforming their archaic 5th Growth ranking for well over a decade. I’ve written about Pontet Canet before, they’re essentiallyacross the street, just south of Mouton Rothschild. Their respective terroir is similar. When I first visited the château in 2008, it was quickly pointed out that there were horses working the vineyard. At the time, they were working towards the Agence Bio organic certification. They earned it beginning with the 2010 vintage.

After attending the En Primeur tastings in 2008, and the subsequent UGC tasting in January 2010, it was apparent that the 2007 Pontet Canet was a huge standout from what seems to be an under appreciated vintage.The wine press (and many a Bordeaux lover) has had much praise for the 2007 Pontet Canet. Here’s what The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin had to say:

“Tasted at Bordeaux Index’s Pontet-Canet dinner at The Ledbury. The 2007 continues to be a great Pauillac considering the vintage. Here the nose closed at first back opens up nicely with blackberry and graphite, less of the Margaux element that I noticed a few months ago. The palate has volume so atypical for the vintage with soft caressing tannins and a very harmonious blackcurrant, mulberry and vanilla tinged finish. Tasted February 2011. 93 points.”

There you have it. Day one of our 35th Anniversary Sale has been a doozy. I probably heard the customer quote of my entire tenure here at TWH today. Seriously. Anya, Tom, and I were running around crazy all day helping many customers wrestle away some trophy bottles for crazy good prices. 3 liter bottles of 2005 Bordeaux, some fancy Burgundy, and many a bargain case, all made their way out of here today. But hey, that’s what the sale is all about. Somehow, I (barely) found a few minutes to tell you all about a wine that I think should not be missed. The “synthetic First Growth”, 2007 Château Pontet Cantet. The official scorekeeper’s ruling? A hit!Peter Zavialoff

Please note: The 2007 Pontet Canet was purchased by The Wine House as usual: directly from La Place in Bordeaux, and shipped to our warehouse in refrigerated container. The wine has always been in pristine condition throughout its trip to our shop.

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about the 1855 Bordeaux classification, options trading, or English Football:

To Pair With The Exotic: 2007 Barsac/Sauternes

Thursday, September 8, 2011 3:30 PM

Sweet indeed. Happy Labor Day weekend! I hope everyone is enjoying these three days, no matter what you do. Labor Day is a lot of things for a lot of people. An old friend of mine once told me that he was melancholy on Labor Day as it was the weekend that he and his family would close down their lakeside cottage in upstate NY. Funny thing was he really loved doing it. Some other friends are annual fixtures at the Sausalito Art Festival, and they generously open their nearby house for friends and family before, during and after the music. For me, there is usually a good chance my birthday lands during this weekend. Emily once told me thatshe drinks Viognier every year on her birthday, and I thought that wassuch a good idea that I immediately held a vote on what my annual bottle should be (it was a close race, but I won 1-0), and established the tradition last year. If you know me at all, it’s pretty easy to guess what I had and will continue to have on my birthday from now on. Gold Wine from Bordeaux, sweeeeet!


I could go on an on, and I have, but no day of celebration for me would be complete without a regal glass of wine from Barsac/Sauternes. If just as an aperitif, or with foie gras (insert obvious eye roll here), with blue cheese (more eye rollin’), or with dinner itself; it’s just got to be there. And it will be.

2007 was a sensational vintage for the Barsac/Sauternes region. The wines are marked with fresh, crisp acidity and that really helps to keep things in balance and accentuate the complexity of the wines. The now sold out 2007 Climens made our top 10 last year, and was the only wine I have ever predicted would get a perfect score from an influential critic after I tasted it (Neal Martin gave it 99+, so I was wrong). But I find the 2007 vintage to be quite compelling for these wines across the board. If you seek freshness and lively acidity in your Sauternes, you’re going to love these. They’re fantastic with food, I’m thinking lobster (yeah, that’s kind of obvious), or wok-tossed prawns, maybe a Vietnamese pork sandwich, or Chile Rellenos (okay, now I’m starving), a glass of 2007 Gold Wine will do you right! I’ve listed below our current stock of in-stock 2007 Barsac/Sauternes. Won’t you join me in a toast to the wonderful complexity of the wines from Barsac/Sauternes with a glass of wine from Barsac/Sauternes?Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me regarding Bordeaux’s Gold Wines, this year’s Champions’ League draws, or anything else:

2007 Sauternes: Chateau Coutet In Stock!

Monday, August 30, 2010 4:13 PM

If you’ve been by our shop recently, you most likely noticed we weremaking space. Making space for what? More wine, of course. We’re 33% complete with another trio of incoming containers bringing us all sorts of goodies from overseas. This last one was chock full of Bordeaux. Red and white; sticky white, that is. Yes, I mean Sauternes. Most of our 2007 Sauternes selections are now in stock, including my favorite, Chateau Coutet!

I’m not going to get all sentimental about this, though I should point out that 2007 was the first vintage I tasted out of barrel in Bordeaux. So when I saw the forklift unloading palates stacked with wood cases with 2007 printed on them, I felt that things had come full circle. There were a plethora of memorable moments on that trip, but one of the most memorable was our stop at Chateau Desmirail in Cantenac for the UGC Sauternes tasting. Having spent the morning driving from the other Medoc UGC tastings at Pontet Canet and Lascombes, tasting 50 or so young, tannic, red wines, the thought of cleansing the palate with some luscious Sauternes was a brilliant idea. I just didn’t know how brilliant.

I’ve said before
that I’m a big fan of the 2005 vintage in Sauternes, yet I’d heard that 2007 was another stellar vintage for the region, and I was anxious to taste what I was hearing about. What a show. We got there around lunch time, the masses were still busy feeding themselves, and we had the room almost to ourselves. Only in such an empty tasting room could the following have happened. While tasting the Chateau d’Arche, I experienced a humorous episode. A sample was poured for me, I swirled it in my glass, and took a whiff. It was puzzling. I was already half way through the tasting, and these botrytised wines have similarities, but this was something strangely different. I swirled and inhaled again. It was unmistakable. Floral. I mean reaaaally floral; I started to write: “Weird faux floral thing, shampoo-like …”, I stopped. I turned around, and they were cleaning out the spittoon behind me and mopping the floor with soapy suds. Ah. I took my pour elsewhere in the empty room, and continued tasting. I found the majority of the wines to show great weight, buoyed by zippy acidity, wrapped around the ever so important botrytis. As I approached the finish line, having just tasted the opulent Chateau Guiraud, I stepped forward to sample one of my fave’s, Chateau Coutet. It’s a double-edged sword when you approach a tasting with expectations. I got my sample, gave it a swirl, and started jotting things down.“Enigmatic. Orchard fruit, a hint of grass, not getting any botrytis … marshmallow.” Then I tasted, “Dense, has depth, there’s the botrytis, it intensifies on the palate, deep, what a fine wine. Finish has depth, botrytis, lively acid, and fades slowly. Long.” Okay, there it was. I believe it was right there and then when I began to understand the difference between Sauternes and Barsac. The Guiraud was very good, yet somehow obvious. The Coutet was delicate, elegant; it was the waltz to the Guiraud’s tango. I tasted the final quintet, and it was time to go. Thank you Chateau Desmirail. Thank you for hosting a most lovely Sauternes tasting.


This past January, The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux came to Los Angeles to pour the bottled 2007’s, and, as you would imagine, I was psyched to see how they turned out. I found many of the reds to my liking; and with their mineral drive and lively acid levels, the dry whites were stellar. Yet the wines of Sauternes stole the spotlight that day.Seriously, TV cameras and everything. I was looking around wondering where Angelina Jolie was. I tasted through the newly bottled stickies, andfound them ethereal. When I got to the Coutet, again, I was expecting a lot, but they didn’t fail me. Again, I got that depth, that pleasant pinch of all taste sensors, the botrytis, but the way the flavors seemed to intensify on the palate was extraordinary. Again, the finish was deep, complex, and lengthy. Bravo! I staggered through the end of the Sauternes section much like a prize fighter pinned to the ropes. I mean this figuratively, not literally, I am a professional, ergo I spit. But now that these lovelies are here in our shop, I can take one home and drink it! I think I just may treat myself to a half bottle tonight!


PS Sauternes are not dessert wines. Sure you can have them with dessert, as dessert, or as an aperitif, as the French do. You can pair them with savory cuisine. That’s right, savory cuisine. And I’m not just talking about foie gras. (Insert eye roll here). In fact, I was discussing this very topic with Sandrine Garbay back in April (Sandrine is the Maitre de Chai at Chateau d’Yquem), and when foie gras came up we collectively rolled our eyes at this good, but very tired pairing. Imagine seeing the same film every time you go to the cinema!?? Aline Baly, proprietor of Chateau Coutet visited our shop back in May, and we discussed the same subject at length. Especially now, in a day and age where so many exotic flavors and types of cuisine are available to us, the wines of Sauternes are extremely versatile and can pair with almost anything. A good customer of ours (and reader of these Sunday emails) was picking up a bottle of Sauternes earlier this week. We asked him what he was going to drink it with, and he said, “Hunan Lamb”. That’s the spirit!Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments regarding savory Sauternes pairings, 2007 Bordeaux in general, or the latest transfer gossip:

From The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin, “This has a relatively simple but crisp nose with dried honey, apricot, quince and a touch of almond. The palate is well balanced with good acidity and botrytis, pure, quite linear with white peach, pear, a touch of mandarin and citrus acidity cutting through its viscous texture towards the finish. It improves the more it remains in the mouth, the nose seeming to absorb energy, the palate becoming ever more “pixilated”. This is another intellectual Sauternes that should age beautifully. Drink 2012-2030+ – 94 points”

*Vineyard photo from; bottle/glasses from

The UGC de Bordeaux Comes To California – 2007 Vintage

Saturday, February 13, 2010 4:15 PM

As I stated in a previous email, it was around this time last year that the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeauxcame to San Francisco to pour the newly bottled 2006 vintage. They were scheduled to do it again at the end of January, but decided to cut their junket short and skip us altogether. On relative short notice, I scrambled my way down to LA to attend the UGC tasting in Hollywood.Remembering how the wines tasted out of barrel back in March/April 2008, I was ready to taste them now that they’ve been bottled. All in all, it was a pleasant surprise.


Flash back to the en primeur tastings in Bordeaux in 2008. As we headed north through the Medoc on morning one, we had no idea how the wines would show. Rumors were swirling (sorry, I can’t help it) in regard to the Indian Summer that supposedly saved what would have been a lackluster vintage whose growing season was marked by murky weather at best. What I found very interestingwas the fact that because the summer weather was not hot and sunny, the hang time of the grapes was much longer than usual allowing them to fully ripen physiologically. Just hearing this made me think classic in regard to the vintage; meaning wines that were not necessarily “showy” in their youth, but wines that would gain in complexity each year stored in my cellar. The barrel tastings were highly educational. The top chateaux presented some outstanding samples (go figure, right?). Of course, they were able to afford to severely limit yields sending scores of workers into the vineyards all season. Well, it paid off. There were some other fine samples presented by lesser growth chateaux, but it was hit or miss at those levels. On the right bank, it was hit or miss again. As far as the red wines went, it is the type of vintage where one would need some guidance. The white wines, both dry and sweet, were another story. More on that later.

Back to the present. After a lengthy flight delay, I made it to the tasting … a little late … well, it was right when I snapped this photo. As you can see, it was in full swing. The beauty of it was that the mob was in the larger room on the right, so Pessac, St. Emilion, and Pomerol were easy access straight away. As I tasted through the Pessac-Leognan reds, it was not a surprise that I thought highly of the Haut-Bailly, Pape Clement, and Smith Haut-Lafitte. But with many of the others, I picked up more than a hint of what I like to call “Old School Bordeaux Funk”.

Switching gears completely, I was in St. Emilion and was taken by the Chateau Canon quickly. It was “delicate” and “elegant” (if I can read my own handwriting). All in all, the St. Emilions showed very well. The Pomerols showed great power and intensity … these will age well. Then it was the Margaux appellation, which was a little spotty. That left bank “funkiness” was back. St. Julien was similar; Pauillac had a few standouts. Lynch Bages and Pontet Canet showed very well, but leave it to Pichon Lalande to win the honor of best red!

I finally caught up to the mob. Where were they? Sauternes and Barsac. These wines are an absolute treat! It was another stellar vintage for the Noble Rot; the wines that were harmonious and well balanced out of barrel have taken on an extra dimension now that they are in bottle. I’m not going back on my claim that 2005 was the best Sauternes vintage of the decade, but in one case a 2007 trumps its 2005 counterpart. When I got to Chateau Climens, I had to fight my way through what I considered to be a Hollywood “see and be seen” party, complete with film crew. Well, the wine was stellar! So good, mind you, that we sold out of the tag ends we had left the very next day. One guess as to the general geographic area of all of the buyers … southern Cal, of course. There was much praise on’s bulletin board as well, and I will go on the record here … now … time stamp it. This will be one of those wines. You know what I’m on about here. It seems very likely to me that it will get 100 points from Robert Parker and/or The Wine Spectator. I was so impressed with the 2007 Climens that it would not surprise me at all if one day the phones started lighting up and the whole country needed to own this wine! So in preparation, we were able to secure an additional allocation of this soon to be trophy wine!

I took a victory lap back to Pessac-Leognan to taste whichever dry whites remained, no surprise, it was Pape Clement and Smith Haut-Lafitte again! I landed at SHL and decided to stop spitting as I was finished. Always one captivated by all things musical, I spyed the Capitol Records building in the distance and snapped this here parting shot before the sun set. 


My conclusion is unfortunately similar to the consensus (that’s not usually how I roll); it was a trying vintage for the red wines on the left bank (save the few mentioned here and the atavistic “Old School Funky” ones, and I’m sure the top growth who don’t pour at these events … sadly). The right bank reds showed panache and verve without being overdone, and I applaud the efforts there. The dry whites were very well balanced with zippy acidity. And finally, the Sauternes … Ah, the Sauternes. Oh yeah, the de Fargues was sensational also; but there can only be one winner, and that would be the Climens … hands down!Peter Zavialoff

2006 Fleur Cardinale Spells Super Bargain!

Monday, February 1, 2010 3:55 PM

The funny thing about epiphanies is that you never know when you’re going to experience one. Sometimes, as was the case with me this week, they can almost be overlooked as we carry on with our daily routines. This past week was a bit of a blur for me, but now that I look back upon it, I’ve come to recognize the driving force that gets me up in the morning, into my car for a seventeen mile commute, and into this frigid warehouse:Bordeaux. Sure, I’ve said it before; sure, my colleagues are all aware of this; sure, my friends very well know this; and no doubt, if you have read my ramblings with any regularity, you all know this too. So I got caught up in my daily routine; running errands, beating deadlines (barely), and took my eye off the ball for a minute. Ah, but a series of recent episodes have (believe it or not, yet another one just occurred as I was writing this) served to remind me that indeed, it is all about Bordeaux!
2006 Chateau Fleur Cardinale Saint Emilion (half bottle)

Red Wine; Merlot; Bordeaux;
  Add to Cart
2006 Chateau Fleur Cardinale Saint Emilion

Red Wine; Merlot; Bordeaux;
  Add to Cart



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It was around this time last year that the UGC Bordeaux tasting of newly bottled 2006’s took place here in San Francisco. This year was a little different. Though originally scheduled for January 27, the Union cancelled the event leaving last Wednesday’s tasting in Hollywood the sole west-coast opportunity to taste the newly-bottled 2007’s. On what would normally be my day off, I found myself scrambling to the airport to catch a 10:25 to LAX. Well, it didn’t take off until 12:45 … (grumble, grumble). Once in LA, I was whisked off quickly to Hollywood by our Southern California sales rep, Jennifer (thanks again!). I rolled through the wines excitedly as this was the first vintage I ever tasted out of barrel. I’m drifting off the subject here … Look for my thoughts on the 2007 Bordeaux vintage in the form of an upcoming email and/or blog post.Anyhoo, I found myself turning the lock on the front door of the treehouse at 11 PM, then realizing that it had been a long day. 

I shared my impressions when I came in on Tursday (not a typo, that’s how I say it now), and got back in the Wine House groove. Later in the afternoon, a wine rep called looking for Anya. I told him she would be in on Friday. He then asked me if I was the buyer for Italian wines, I said no. He then asked me which wines I was responsible for buying here. I was once the Port buyer, but then I went to a Port tasting. Our Port section is still indicative of my impressions of that tasting. I then mentioned that I am quite involved with our Bordeaux inventory,as evidenced by my attendance the previous day at the Hollywood tasting. He then asked me my impressions. If you are pressed for time, don’t EVER ask me to talk about Bordeaux, EVER!!! We spoke for around 25 minutes, and as we were hanging up, he thanked me for, his words, “the education”.

Reminder #3 came earlier today as I was writing the intro paragraph to this email. Gary, a very good customer who often makes the mistake of asking me about Bordeaux, popped in. I waved, head down, trying to cling to a faint train of thought when he walked over to my work station and said, “How’s Bordeaux?” I excitedly jumped out of my chair and exclaimed, “That’s it! That’s what I’m on about!” We chatted at length about the Hollywood tasting, wine scores, and Mondays at Restaurant Picco. After he left, my train of thought was no longer needed as I hit the free flow zone, which is the zone in which I want to be if I’m writing something.

Okay, so it’s all about Bordeaux then, you want to tell us about a wine, Pete? Well, as a matter of fact, I do. The thing about Bordeaux, though, is that it’s special. It invigorates me every single time I get to wiggle one of the lengthy corks that proudly displays the Chateau’s name and vintage out of a bottle neck. Soaring prices are making that more and more difficult for me, but check out what I found.I seem to have the best luck with overlooked vintages. Coming on the heels of the much celebrated 2005, the 2006 vintage in Bordeaux received little fanfare, and most buyers had loaded up so much on the ’05’s that they had no room for any 06’s. When the2006 Chateau Fleur Cardinale recently arrived, I thought it a good idea to grab a half bottle to see what’s up with a property that wallops the quality for price paradigm vintage after vintage. Wow, was I happy I did! The 2006 Fleur Cardinale hits the stage like a band that’s been playing together for years. You’ve got earthy mineral on drums; silky, sweet tannins on bass; that spicy verve on lead guitar; and a dark, brambly berry on vocals … how’s that for a lineup? Best thing is this band will play in your living room for a fraction of the cost of a U2 ticket! Not to mention, they’ll play an encore any time you want!

It’s tough to follow Anya’s writeups week after week, especially when she finds a great wine for $15. But this is a whole different ballgame, folks. This is Bordeaux. And dime for dime, especially compared to other St. Emilions, the 2006 Chateau Fleur Cardinale is every bit as much of a bargain as last week’s wine. After all, it IS all about Bordeaux, isn’t it?Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me about the UGC tasting in Hollywood, anything Bordeaux related (at your own risk), Port tastings, or, especially, next Sunday’s showdown between Chelsea and Arsenal:

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