W hen I was a sommelier, every order for a bottle of Pétrus wine left a lasting impression. This fine wine was requested for the most special occasions – a bottle of 1982 for a 40th birthday, for example. During the early days of the pandemic, my friends in Singapore celebrated rare reunions with the best vintages. For most wine lovers, Petrus Pomerol stands at the pinnacle – it is the best of the best, a wine highly sought after at auction because of its rarity and the one wine to try before you die. Why are we so enamored with it, and what makes it the best wine for such special moments?
The key lies in its 11-hectare vineyard, Château Pétrus, originally owned by the Arnaud family, sold to Madame Edmond Loubat by 1945 and, following her death, left in part to Jean Pierre Moueix. Located in Pomerol appellation on Bordeaux’s Right Bank, next to Saint-Émilion, the elevation and soils at Pétrus create wines that are consistently exceptional year after year. At forty meters above sea level, Pétrus is the highest vineyard on the Pomerol plateau, which promotes naturally good drainage. Yet the hill is made up entirely of clay – rare at these heights, as clay normally erodes and is found at the bottom of a hill. The dark topsoil is 60 to 80 cm thick, and the subsoil is a dense blue. Blue clay produces grapes with the highest level of tannin for Pomerol while still being among the softest in texture, and while it is found throughout the plateau, most vineyards only have a portion of it within their soils.
“For most wine lovers, Petrus stands at the pinnacle – it is the best of the best, a wine highly sought after at auction because of its rarity and the one wine to try before you die.”
Pétrus produces red wine made from 100 percent Merlot, and this occasionally finicky grape grows well in the vineyard’s unique terroir. Early vintages up through the 1960s may contain a small amount of Cabernet Franc from previous vines that have since been replaced with more Merlot plantings. Attention to quality is key at Pétrus. The winemaker ensures every single grape throughout the vineyard is picked individually, and the Bordeaux wine is matured in oak barrels. There is no second wine and only the best fruit is used to produce about 2,500 cases each year.
Together, these features produce a wine of lasting impression. In March 2021, I hosted a retrospective dinner in Hong Kong featuring the 1990 Bordeaux Vintage. The lineup included all of the great châteaux of Bordeaux – Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Haut Brion, Mouton, Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Le Pin, Lafleur, Montrose and Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse – but the favorite of the night was the 1990 Pétrus, which was praised for its concentration and purity of flavor combined with its velvety texture. Its ripeness of fruit was balanced by acidity and a minerally component. The wine fully coated the mouth, satiating the tastebuds with intensity, and left a lingering impression on the palate.
As I tasted the wine I thought even Paul Giamatti’s character Miles, who infamously mocked Merlot in the movie Sideways, would have happily drunk a glass of Pétrus and conceded that this is a wine is like no other.
Petrus Wines at Auction
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