What Makes Petrus One of the Best Wines in the World?

What Makes Petrus One of the Best Wines in the World?

Located on a unique clay-soil hill in Bordeaux, the great vineyard of Petrus makes incomparable wines beloved for their concentration and purity of flavor as well as their velvety texture.
Located on a unique clay-soil hill in Bordeaux, the great vineyard of Petrus makes incomparable wines beloved for their concentration and purity of flavor as well as their velvety texture.

W hen I was a sommelier, every order of Petrus left a lasting impression. This 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 top vintages. 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. Why are we so enamored with it, and what makes it the best wine for such special moments?

The key lies in its vineyard. Located in Pomerol on Bordeaux’s Right Bank, the elevation and soils at Petrus create wines that are consistently exceptional year after year. At forty meters above sea level, Petrus 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.

A vendangeur, or grape harvester, collects Merlot grapes during a vendange harvest at Petrus vineyard, where the fruit is sorted by hand. Photos by Tim Graham / Getty Images
“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.”

Petrus is 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 Petrus. Every single grape throughout the vineyard is picked individually, 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 Petrus, 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 Petrus and conceded that this is a wine is like no other.

Petrus Wines at Auction

Banner image: Photo by James Andanson/Sygma via Getty Images

Luxury Week

About the Author

Upcoming Wine Auctions

More from Sotheby's

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

Close
arrow Created with Sketch. Back To Top