Bordeaux – the AOC Status question

Chateau Pontet-Canet, regularly regarded as one of the wines of Bordeaux that punches above its fifth growth status, suffered a blow recently as the 2012 vintage of its second wine Les Hauts de Pontet-Canet failed to gain AOC Pauillac status. Consequently it will be bottled as ‘Vin de France’.

Chateau Pontet-Canet (source Wikipedia)
Chateau Pontet-Canet (source Wikipedia)

Second wines are made by many prolific Chateaux and are often considered to be wines for the consumer to enjoy while they are waiting for their top wines to mature – embodying the ‘house style’ of the Chateau in a wine that is approachable in its youth. Increasingly second wines of first growth Chateaux like Les Forts de Latour and Carruades de Lafite are being snapped up by the Chinese market.

Thinking outside the amphorae

Pontet –Canet’s owner Alfred Tesseron has expressed great surprise that his wine was rejected by the tasting panel responsible for approving or rejecting AOC status. Wines can be rejected if it is thought that they are not typical of the appellation they represent. A change did occur with Les Hauts de Pontet-Canet in 2012, in that the winery began using amphorae (large clay, gravel and limestone vessels) to age the wine, reducing their use of new oak. This may have contributed to the perception of the wine as not typical of its region.

Appellation rules dictate that when a wine is submitted for AOC Pauillac status is rejected, it cannot be sold under the lesser AOC Bordeaux label, so it is automatically relegated to Vin de France. Early signs suggest that in spite of the initial shock, sales of Les Hauts de Pontet-Canet 2012 will be largely unaffected.

Does status matter?

The fact that sales of Les Hauts de Pontet-Canet are likely to be unaffected raises the question as to how much AOC status matters. Whether it is AOC Pauillac or Vin de France, the wine still bears the name of Chateau Pontet-Canet, an undeniable stamp of quality. Elsewhere in France, many producers have become jaded with having their wines rejected by AOC panels and rather than bother with the expense and inconvenience, they choose to release their wines as Vin de France. This also gives them more freedom to experiment with wines that are perhaps less typical of the region.

Watching with interest

Time will tell how significant the downgrading of Les Hauts de Pontet-Canet will be in Bordeaux’s history – press attention on this story and the pioneering use of amphorae could end up making the wine even more desirable in the marketplace, which undermines the notion that a wine must be typical of its region in order to gain quality status. Watching this story emerge undoubtedly are the owners of Chateau Pichon Baron, having recently launched a new second wine of their own from the same vintage. As the market for second wines continues to grow, there will be plenty of others watching with interest as well.

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