It is rare in the world of wine and spirits that the same family owns a top-rated château in Bordeaux as well as a maison producing top-shelf Cognac.
But that is the case of the Tesserons, who run both Château Pontet-Canet in Pauillac and Cognac Tesseron in the famous brandy region a few miles north along the Charente River. Alfred Tesseron, now joined by his niece Melanie, have turned Pontet-Canet from an also-ran property into a prized-wine producer that is often rated as highly as its neighbors — Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, and Latour — while the Cognac house has gone from being a supplier for other Cognac brands into a producer of only select brandies.
During this holiday season, a bottle of Tesseron Cognac makes a superb gift for a treasured friend or an even better gift for oneself to enjoy over many a long winter’s evening. And a gift of Château Pontet-Canet would be similarly welcomed.
I have been a guest of the Tesserons at Pontet-Canet on three or four occasions, and four years ago I sat down with Alfred Tesseron for a long Q&A at Sherry-Lehmann in New York City. Tesseron is a gracious man without a trace of arrogance, but nevertheless someone who is quite stubborn in his determination to do whatever is necessary to produce quality wines and Cognacs, having often clashed with his late father on the direction of the two properties.
Two of his comments from our 2011 interview are indicative of Tesseron’s philosophy, first as a brandy producer, and then as its brand ambassador. “In Cognac, what I did was to change my customers,” he says. “Before, we were growers and distillers, selling to many famous names that you know. I wanted to make a brand and changed that to the ‘Tesseron’ name. In Cognac, I didn’t try to do ‘three stars.’ I’m not into mass products. I started where the others ended — XO and beyond.” And, “Traveling is a pleasure, because people I see like drinking my wine. But I don’t do marketing – I just explain what we do at the château, the way I’m explaining to you. And I bring along a bottle of Cognac Tesseron to let people know that we do that, too!”
Recently, I tasted three of the Tesseron Signature Collection, now available in most major American markets:
Tesseron XO Passion ($300)
A blend of 10-year-old and older distillations, Passion flows very lightly across the palate with cracked grain and fruit eau-de-vie flavors. The tight finish blossoms in seconds into a lovely, more-buttery-than-caramel aftertaste.
Tesseron Extra Légende Grande Champagne ($500)
There are 50 generation-old brandies in here, and the emphasis is on warm, burnished-wood flavors. The body has a pleasant, encompassing, light viscosity. The fruit is complex — dried figs and apricot among others — with a light, crème brûlée finish.
Tesseron Trésor Grande Champagne ($1,200)
Double the amount of cuvées and two generations old, this cognac is very elegant, like dipping your palate into a tranquil pool of distilled fruits and flowers — violets, orange peel, honey — with a finishing accent of salinity; surprisingly, though, no rancio. The structure is very soothing, more circular than linear.
There is also a Tesseron Royal Blend ($1,500), which I did not taste.
Expensive? Of course, but a bottle sampled wisely can provide pleasant beginnings or endings to a couple dozen pleasant cold-winter evenings.