Winery Profile: Ch. PONTOISE CABARRUS Haut Medoc

Owned by since 1959 by the Terygeol family and now run by Eric Terygeol with consultation from the famous Boissenot family, Ch. Pontoise Cabarrus traces its roots back to the Baron de Brane (then also owner of Brane Mouton, now known as Ch. Mouton Rothschild) in the 1700s. Located just adjacent to the St. Estephe appellation in St. Seurin de Cadourne in the Haut Medoc appellation, this is adjacent to and shares the same terroir and exposures as Ch. Sociando Mallet.PontoiseWinery

The vineyard is planted to a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot, mostly on well-drained gravelly slopes close to and facing the Gironde estuary. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot are on deep gravel and the Merlot is on clay over limestone. The Caberent Franc is where they meet. The location and situation are ideal for producing elegant Cabernet Sauvignon-based red wines in the classic style.

Alcoholic fermentation is in temperature controlled concrete tanks with pump overs. Malolactic fermentation and aging are in French oak barrels. The percentage of new barrels has increased from 25% to now 33% while time in the barrels has decreased a bit.

Rather than new world, these are classic claret-style reds with elegance and finesse to go with their generally more red than black fruit and distinctive notes of tobacco leaf, cedar, and gravel-dust terroir.

This personal favorite of mine is an every-day priced Bordeaux you can drink now (decant it roughly if you do) but that will reward your keeping it for up to 10 years. I can’t think of a more consistent or better value in a Cabernet-dominant, classically-built Bordeaux red.

Ch. PONTOISE CABARRUS, Haut Medoc, 2008 ($18.99)Pontoise2010
Tech: 13.5% alc. A blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot fermented in temperature-controlled concrete tanks using pump-overs and aged 18 months in French oak barrels (25% new) and bottled after a traditional egg white fining.   Sensory: Purple-red in color with well-formed legs; dry, medium full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium plus phenolics. Richer, juicy ripe fresh red and black fruit with gravelly dust (along with a hint of limestone) terroir and dusty oak accented with cedar, tobacco, black pepper, exotic sweet spice; long finish; Exciting, bright, and fresh; lovely-in-the-mouth. BS: 90+

Ch. PONTOISE CABARRUS, Haut Medoc, 2009 ($19.99)
Tech: 14% alc. A blend of roughly 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot fermented in temperature-controlled concrete tanks using pump-overs and aged 18 months in French oak barrels (25% new) and bottled after a traditional egg white fining.   Sensory: Deep-purple-red in color with well-formed legs; dry, medium full-bodied with fresh, balanced acidity and moderately chewy phenolics. Juicy evenly mixed black & red fruit with dusty gravelly earth and accents of tobacco, spice, black pepper, cedar; very long finish; focused and quite tasty. Exciting, bright, and fresh; lovely-in-the-mouth. BS: 91

Ch. PONTOISE CABARRUS, Haut Medoc, 2010 ($19.99)
A 14.5% alcohol blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc fermented in temperature-controlled concrete tanks using pump-overs and aged 12 months in all French oak barrels (1/3 new).   Sensory: Deep-purple in color with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium-chewy phenolics. Dark juicy rich blackberry-black cherry-blueberry fruit supple with gravelly earth and dusty oak accented with tobacco leaf and a hint of pencil shavings. Long finish; complete, delicious, lovely-in-the-mouth. Classic Haut Medoc and real “go to” for me. BS: 91.

Wine of the Week: OPUS ONE 2009

OPUS is a consistent personal favorite Napa Valley Cabernet-based red. It fits in with my other favorites such as Araujo, Quintessa, Dunn, Snowden, Oakville East, Kenefick, Shafer, The Fourteen, Reynold’s Family Reserve, etc. in that the flavor of ripe (but not over-ripe) Cabernet comes through with its tobacco, cedar, black pepper nuance intact. It does not taste of chocolate or chocolate syrup. It is elegant, balanced, and has the acidity to go the distance. This is what Cabernet-based Napa Valley red wine is all about and what current wave of ripeness and extraction hounds have gotten too far away from. If this is old school, I guess that makes me an old school kind of guy. Oh, and I’ll take that steak to go with it rare-to-medium-rare with a nice crust on it.

OPUS ONE, Napa Valley, 2009  ($205)

A blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 6%, Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot, and 1% Malbec macerated for 20 days (including fermentation) and aged 17 months in all new French oak barrels.  Bottled un-fined at 14.5% AbV one year prior to release. Sensory: Deep-purple-black in color with well formed legs that stain the glass; dry, medium-full-bodied with a fresh balance and chewy but well-integrated phenols (tannins).   Supple, juicy, beautifully balanced. Offers red and black fruit with notes of tobacco, spice, black pepper, cedar. Dusty oak and earth. Lovely integration. Elegant. Rich but very approachable with a classic dusty feel in the mouth. YUM. 97+. In the short term, a splash through a decanter wouldn’t do it any harm. Neither would serving it in large glasses that allow for some vigorous swirling. Longer term, this 2009 Opus is a wine with a demonstrated track record that will easily repay aging for twenty or more years.

MURDER, HE TASTED or “Death in the Desert”

By Charles M. Bear Dalton

It’s Monday. 10:00am. A dame walks into my office. Short black dress, denim jacket, tricolor cow-girl boots. Intriguing. And she’s packing. A 750ml of “So Rare” Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. She tells me it won a Champion buckle at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition. It clicks into place. The boots, the denim …

“100% Cabernet.” she says, interrupting my thoughts.
“20 months in a 100% new oak.” she says before I can answer.
“Rutherford.” she says.
“Actually Bella Oaks vineyard that Heitz isn’t getting anymore.” she says.
“Really?” I ask, finally getting a word in.
“Really.” she answers, defiantly.
“Serve it up.” I say.
“OK” she says.

She pulls the cork. It pops like a .38 snub-nose fired through a feather pillow. She pours the wine into my glass. A splatter falls to my desktop blotter – a stray droplet of scarlet blood. As it is absorbed, I think of DNA evidence. Is this really Bella Oaks fruit? Is it really all Cabernet Sauvignon? Is the oak really all French? And then she pours into her own glass. I swirl my glass and look at it against bright white back drop of my desk blotter. Surprisingly, the wine is more red than purple. There is a hint of black in the red and there is a little haziness. Nothing unusual there but not exactly what I expected. I swirl it some more and then sniff. Red fruit. Now I’m surprised. I think about the judging panel. How did a red fruit-dominant Cabernet make it past the judging panel in an over $50 per bottle Cabernet class in Houston? Seems unlikely at best. I taste. I swish the wine around my mouth. Yes, red fruit – some tobacco, some black pepper, a bit of dust. The fruit is muted, the wine lacks complexity. A mystery. This is a $70.00 bottle of Cabernet? Not in my Cabernet section. I tell her. She sighs. And in her sigh, I know that she knows the wine isn’t there.

I notice she has another bottle.
I ask: “Do you want to open the other bottle?”
“Sure” she replies – a dame with nothing to lose.
She gets fresh glasses and cuts the wax capsule. This time the cork really pops out of the bottle. Not muffled but clear like the bark of .22 on a cold January morning. She pours. The wine is purple. A drop hits my blotter and the contrast is evident. More evidence. But of what?

I tilt the glass and the color is richer and more saturated but at the same time darker and brighter. The wine glistens with a dark richness in the glass. I swirl some more and sniff. Dark purple-black fruit with hints of red fruit. More alive. Accents of tobacco and cedar, and dark spice. Grows richer in the mouth. Dark red and black fruit perfume. Vivid, vibrant. I could see how a Houston panel would give this wine a Champion buckle. I could see how a Texan would pay $70.00 to drink a bottle of this winner. It was worthy.

Could these two bottles be the same wine? I noticed the labels are numbered. They are only fifteen apart. I question her.

She says “I don’t understand. They are the same wine. Maybe its bottle variation…”
I say “Bottle variation?! Not likely. Something else is wrong here. Show me the cork.”
She hands me the cork from the second bottle. It looked perfect. A dark stain on the bottom where it had touched the wine and pristine on the sides. As it should be.
“No.” I say. “The cork from the first bottle.”
She reaches under the desk. I wait for it. She brings her hand up to reveal the first cork. The other cork. The cork with the wine stains running up the side of it. The piece of evidence that makes all the rest of the evidence irrelevant. As I looked, she looked too … and she knew what I knew. The first wine had been killed. Murder. Somewhere in the desert between California and our slice heaven on earth – Texas as we call it – the bottle had gotten hot. Cooked. Baked. Fried.

In the moment, she starts to say something. She stops. She begins and stops again. Her memory defeats her as she yields to the obvious. She confesses. The first bottle had been shipped to her via FedEx or UPS ground. She can’t recall which; she had used both. She blamed it on the winery but she knew. She was complicit. She had let it happen. It didn’t matter. Both are notorious for taking the life away from innocent wines in their prime. That bottle had been cooked and its fruit – its very life – had slowly ebbed until just the husk of red fruit was left. The second bottle had come via refrigerated truck to the wholesaler in Texas. It was intact, enticing, perfect.
Why had she done it? Why had she scorned the first bottle? She had played Russian roulette and the wine was lost.

I asked her “Why did you do it?”
She answered, “I needed the sample.”
I replied “But you had to know …”
She pleaded: “But it was in December. It’s OK to ship in December. Everyone ships in December. It’s not too hot in December …”
She whimpered. All platitudes, but now she knew. She was wrong. She had trusted them. But they were all wrong. The dice had rolled and she had crapped out. The risk had always been there and now a bottle was dead. It could have been a case. Or several.

It would never come to trial. Did it happen in Nevada? Was it in Arizona? New Mexico? West Texas? Could it have happened in a broiling tin-roofed, non-climate-controlled Houston warehouse under an unforgiving sun? We’d never know for sure. But I knew. And she knew. Her lack of regard for that villain Heat. In a metal trailer crossing the desert, Heat had killed that bottle. Murder in the desert. A sad and sordid tale. And so unnecessary. If only she had shipped the wine the right way using temperature control. If only …


This originally appeared in Spec’s Update at