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A Plurality of Pétrus (May 25, 2001)

There are certain tastings that happen once in a lifetime. A nine-bottle vertical tasting of Château Pétrus, for example. But not just any years - eight from the decade of the 1970s and the legendary 1982. They all came from a private Toronto cellar and were donated as a fund-raiser for the Toronto-based charitable foundation, Grapes For Humanity.

Pétrus is the world’s most sought-after, and hence most expensive, red wine. Much has to do with the size of its production. At its best Pétrus produces 5,000 cases a year. Compared to the First Growth clarets across the river, this is boutique size: Haut-Brion 16,000 cases, Lafite 21,000 cases, Mouton-Rothschild 27,000 cases, Latour 31,700 cases and Margaux 33,000 cases.

Coming from Pomerol, the smallest of Bordeaux’s regions (with a production roughly equal to that of the Médoc commune of St. Julien), Pétrus is unique in its grape mix. In many years it is 100 per cent Merlot; in vintages when the Cabernet Franc – locally known as Bouchet - ripens 5 per cent will go into the blend. What gives the wine its complexity is the soil structure of the 11.5 hectare vineyard. There is a large outcrop of blue clay over a layer of hard iron sandstone. The vines average 40 to 45 years old with some as old as 80 years. Crops are kept very low to ensure concentration.

The wine is fermented in concrete vats with 18 to 25 days of maceration on the skins, depending on the vintage, and the resulting wine is aged for two years or more in barrique before bottling.

The tasting was set up from youngest to oldest.

1970: ruby colour, showing maturity at the rim but still dark. Sweet plum and cedar on the nose with a hint of cocoa. Lean on the palate, majestic with that elegant old claret taste; great balance. Still showing some tannin on the finish. (93)

1971: denser colour than the '70 with a sweet, funky, soy sauce, spice and vanilla nose, sweet, fat, seductive on the palate, with a fatness in the middle fruit, almost chunky. (92)

1973: typical Pomerol - cedar, spicy red currant nose; lighter in colour, style and texture than the earlier two vintages, elegant with great balance. Finishes with a floral grace note. (90)

1974: a poor vintage generally: shy nose with elements of mint, cedar, white pepper, black cherry; lean on the palate with a mature note of soy sauce; beginning to dry out and still tannic. (87)

1975: generally a very tannic year: deeply coloured holding to the rim; intense sweet, mint and herbs with a plummy note. Concentrated dark plum flavours with bold tannins but enough fruit to hold. A wine that could live 50 years. (92)

1976: dense purple colour with a browning rim; cedar, tar, egg white, mint and vanilla on the nose. Firm, full-bodied with a port-like flavour. High alcohol with a tannic finish.(89)

1978: mature ruby colour; truffled vanilla nose; elegant raisiny flavour, full-bodied, round and fleshy with great balance. Ready for drinking. (91)

1979: dense purple colour; vanilla, chocolate, spice, smoke on the nose; elegant, firm, black fruit flavours, lovely acidity and cashmere tannins. A complete and wonderful wine. (94)

1982: dense purple colour; cooked red and black berries, mint on the nose; soft and plummy. Lots of concentrated fruit but showing maturity. Rich blackberry taste with lively acidity and great length. (92)

 

 

 

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