Pomerol Wine

Pomerol, a village 30km East of Bordeaux and Northeast of Libourne, lends its name to one of the great wine-growing areas of Bordeaux. It consists mainly of small producers, even the champion of the newer times, Chateau Petrus, during the last two decades maker of one of the most expensive wines in the world, is represented by a farm house rather than a castle. With about 500ha, Pomerol is as well the smallest wine-growing area of Bordeaux, the best vineyards are in terroir and climate quite similar to its neighborhood of St.-Emilion. Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the dominating grape varieties and partly responsible for the unique character of a Pomerol wine, which can be easily distinguished from other red Bordeaux wines: Although rich and powerful in taste, they are remarkably velvety and smooth, something the French refer to as “gras”. Pomerol wines tend to develop faster than the premium crus of the Haut-Medoc and may not be as long-living. There has never been an official classification, but the best Pomerol wines can only be compared to the greatest wines in the world, and although Chateau Petrus is widely regarded as the leading producer, fetching prices which make even the famous Chateau Lafite or Margaux look like a bargain, Le Pin can even cost more, and Lafleur, La Fleur Petrus, Trotanoy, La Conseillante or L«Evangile are all usually more pricey than a Haut-Medoc Premier Cru.

chateau petrus pomerol

Bordeaux Wine Classification

Much has been said about the shortcomings of the 1855 classification. Many call it outdated, and it certainly does not do justice to a lot of great wines from outside the Medoc, Graves and Sauternes. Still, at least the potential of the estates listed there has a surprising validity, and it seems to be forgotten or widely unknown that the official classification system created for the Paris world exhibition in 1855 was in practice not really the first of its kind, and is with a certain likeliness based on its predecessors used in wine trade for more than 100 years already, ranking the wines of Bordeaux by price fetched. These market-driven rankings show an amazing similarity to the 1855 classification, and most of todays well-known names, especially the premier crus (though then partly known under somewhat different names) were consistently in the highest demand. True is as well that all attempts to reform the 1855 classification weren’t successful, with one notable exception, the (widely regarded as long deserved) promotion of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild into the rank of a premier cru by presidential decret in 1973.

The 1855 red Bordeaux wine classification:

Premiers crus:

Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac
Chateau Latour, Pauillac
Chateau Margaux, Margaux
Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Pauillac (since 1973)
Chateau Haut-Brion (in Graves rather than Medoc)

Deuxiemes crus:

Chateau Rauzan-Segla, Margaux
Chateau Rauzan-Gassies, Margaux
Chateau Leoville-Las Cases, St-Julien
Chateau Leoville-Poyferre, St-Julien
Chateau Leoville Barton, St-Julien
Chateau Durfort-Vivens, Margaux
Chateau Gruaud-Larose, St-Julien
Chateau Lascombes, Margaux
Chateau Brane-Cantenac, Cantenac-Margaux
Chateau Pichon-Longueville (Baron), Pauillac
Chateau Pichon-Lalande, Pauillac
Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, St-Julien
Chateau Cos d’Estournel, St-Estephe
Chateau Montrose, St-Estephe

Troisiemes crus:

Chateau Kirwan, Cantenac-Margaux
Chateau d’Issan, Cantenac-Margaux
Chateau Lagrange, St-Julien
Chateau Langoa Barton, St-Julien
Chateau Giscours, Labarde-Margaux
Chateau Malescot-Saint-Exupery, Margaux
Chateau Cantenac-Brown, Cantenac-Margaux
Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux
Chateau Palmer, Cantenac-Margaux
Chateau La Lagune, Ludon-Haut-Medoc
Chateau Desmirail, Margaux
Chateau Calon-Segur, St-Estephe
Chateau Ferriere, Margaux
Chateau Marquis d’Alesme Becker, Margaux

Quatriemes crus:

Chateau Saint-Pierre-Sevaistre, St-Julien
Chateau Talbot, St-Julien
Chateau Branaire-Ducru, St-Julien
Chateau Duhart-Milon-Rothschild, Pauillac
Chateau Pouget, Cantenac-Margaux
Chateau La Tour-Carnet, St-Laurent-Haut-Medoc
Chateau Lafon-Rochet, St-Estephe
Chateau Beychevelle, St-Julien
Chateau Prieure-Lichine, Cantenac-Margaux
Chateau Marquis de Terme, Margaux

Cinquiemes crus:

Chateau Pontet-Canet, Pauillac
Chateau Batailley, Pauillac
Chateau Haut-Batailley, Pauillac
Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac
Chateau Grand-Puy-Ducasse, Pauillac
Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac
Chateau Lynch-Moussas, Pauillac
Chateau Dauzac, Labarde-Margaux
Chateau Mouton-Baronne-Philippe (Chateau d’Armailhac), Pauillac
Chateau Le Tertre, Arsac-Margaux
Chateau Haut-Bages-Liberal, Pauillac
Chateau Pedesclaux, Pauillac
Chateau Belgrave, St-Laurent-Haut-Medoc
Chateau Camensac, St-Laurent-Haut-Medoc
Chateau Cos Labory, St-Estephe
Chateau Clerc-Milon, Pauillac
Chateau Croizet Bages, Pauillac
Chateau Cantemerle, Macau-Haut-Medoc

Premier cru superieur:

Chateau d’Yquem, Sauternes

Premiers crus:

Chateau La Tour Blanche, Bommes
Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Bommes
Chateau Clos Haut-Peyraguey, Bommes
Chateau de Rayne-Vigneau, Bommes
Chateau Suduiraut, Preignac
Chateau Coutet, Barsac
Chateau Climens, Barsac
Chateau Guiraud, Sauternes
Chateau Rieussec, Fargues
Chateau Rabaud-Promis, Bommes
Chateau Sigalas-Rabaud, Bommes

Deuxiemes crus:

Chateau de Myrat, Barsac
Chateau Doisy-Daene, Barsac
Chateau Doisy-Dubroca, Barsac
Chateau Doisy-Vedrines, Barsac
Chateau d’Arche, Sauternes
Chateau Filhot, Sauternes
Chateau Broustet Barsac
Chateau Nairac, Barsac
Chateau Caillou, Barsac
Chateau Suau, Barsac
Chateau de Malle, Preignac
Chateau Romer, Fargues
Chateau Romer-du-Hayot, Fargues
Chateau Lamothe, Sauternes
Chateau Lamothe-Guignard, Sauternes

Chateau Ferriere, Margaux

A 3e cru classe according to the classification of 1855 and with 8 hectares the Medoc’s smallest cru classe.
Chateau Ferriere used to be a rare wine indeed, almost disappeared, after several ownership changes its vineyards were leased to Chateau Lascombes, until the owners of Chasse-Spleen bought the property in 1988.

I had the pleasure two own several bottles of the 1988, which I opened when they were about 10 years old; I still remember a beautiful wine of exemplary Bordeaux red, mahogany at edge, balanced and elegant.

The first vintage under the new setup was the 1992, and since then Chateau Ferriere seems to steadily gain reputation –  if you can get a hand on it, the wine is in Bordeaux terms rather affordable and, as tasting notes show, regularly doing very well in representing the character of Margaux.

Chateau Leoville-Poyferre, Saint-Julien

2e cru classe according to the 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines, originally in one property with Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases and Chateau Leoville-Barton and for long the Leoville with the greatest reputation. While some vintages of the 1960s and 70s were reported as lacking in body, since then this wine is widely regarded as being entirely up to its classification. I always had a fancy for it. The 2001 got some praise as being impressive and deep, tasted in in 2008; I remember it classic and tannic, a bit austere, it looked like it could do with a bit more aging. It should be a very fine wine by now.

Chateau Latour, Pauillac

Premier cru classe from Pauillac and among the great red Bordeaux wines notoriously the most powerful, mineral and robust, a literally monumental wine which absolutely needs cellaring to become accessible, and a long development time, often decades, to reach its peak. It is then of overwhelming power, richness and complexity and one of the most long lasting of all wines – even in lesser vintages still remarkable, which makes it to many the non plus ultra of red Bordeaux wine.

78 hectares are under vine (now 80 percent Cabernet-Sauvignon, 18 percent Merlot plus 2 percent of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot), the fruit for the Grand Vin coming exclusively from the “Enclos” close to the Chateau, an area of 47 hectares.

Theres a second wine called “Les Forts de Latour” made mainly of the grapes from the young wines of the Enclos and grapes from the other vineyards of the estate. This wine is generally regarded to be on par with good deuxieme crus classes and in blind tastings often mistaken for the Grand Vin of Chateau Latour (the price nowadays reflects it).

In recent years, there’s a third wine (usually made from the young wines outside the Enclos), just named “Pauillac” but easily identifiable through the label displaying the ancient tower of Chateau Latour.

Chateau Latour Bordeaux 1955

Chateau Latour 1955

 

Chateau Margaux

One of the four Medoc wines classed as premier cru classe, the impressive Chateau is part of the commune of Margaux and has 81 hectares under vine: 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 percent Merlot, 3 percent Petit Verdot and 2 percent Cabernet Franc, resulting annually in about 150,000 bottles of the Grand Vin.

This wine is, especially since the ownership change at the end of the 1970s, of rare quality and distinction – full, but delicate and velvety, balanced and “feminine”, but of astonishing longevity, subtle and extraordinarily elegant, while incomparably fragrant and famous for its glorious bouquet.
Many will agree that Chateau Margaux is regularly among the very best red Bordeaux wines of the vintage, a real First Growth, again and again described as lovely, complex and classy. Well-kept bottles of the Margaux 1961 pictured above are still reported to be perfect, while the 1995 vintage should slowly become ready, but may even profit from another 10-15 years cellaring.

There’s a second wine called Pavillion Rouge du Chateau Margaux, about 200,000 bottles per year typically from a selection of grapes harvested from younger vines, usually developing faster in the bottle, but of a quality comparable to Second Growth wines from Margaux, plus approx. 30,000 bottles of a white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc cultivated on an additional 12 hectares, which, despite it selling under the generic Bordeaux AOC, is quite remarkable and tends to age well.

Chateau Mouton-Rothschild

World-famous Bordeaux wine, originally classed at the top of the “2nd Growths”, it fetched Premier Cru prices long before it officially gained this ranking in 1973 (the only such change ever made to the 1855 classification). Located in Pauillac with 82 hectares under vine (77 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 percent Merlot, 9 percent Cabernet Franc and 2 percent Petit Verdot, average age of the vines is 48 years), Chateau Mouton-Rothschild produces yearly about 300,000 bottles of one of the most sought-after wines, which at its best is of overwhelming opulence and needs, especially true for good vintages, often several decades to develop from the domination of hard, powerful tannins to the seductive, cedary richness it is well-known for.

chateau mouton rothschild vintage 1959

Since 1945, every year a contemporary artist is commissioned to design the top of the label. Pictured above the superb 1959 vintage.

Chateau Lafite-Rothschild

For many the incarnation of great red Bordeaux and fine wine in general. Widely recognized as Premier Cru long before the official classification of 1855 (then known as Lafite or Lafitte  – Baron de Rothschild overtook the estate in 1868).

107 hectares are these days under vines in Pauillac (still 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, now 25 percent Merlot, 3 percent Cabernet Franc and 2 percent Petit Verdot), with an average plant age of 35 years (the vines used for the Grand Vin de Chateau Lafite Rothschild average 45 years). Indeed, this luxury wine-growing estate is as well one of the largest wineries in Bordeaux and the world, producing annually more than 30,000 cases (in average 200,000 bottles of the Grand Vin).

While admired for its incomparable finesse and elegancy, a Lafite is not just an aesthetic wine, but of great structure and unique depth, especially in the last decades a big wine of great concentration and in good vintages the red Bordeaux wine in perfection.

Bordeaux Wine Investment

Bordeaux wine still sets the pace in the fine wine market. Wether you think about a wine investment in terms of future enjoyment or a financial gain, most well-made wines, while storable for a number of years under decent conditions, do not really get much better, but more often than not are in danger of losing their freshness. This seems to be increasingly true since the advent of modern vinification methods. Very few wines in the world really profit from aging, but some indeed need time to unfold their potential qualities.
Red Bordeaux wines from leading Chateaux are still the center of the attention in this matter and will generally develop positively over 10-20 years, while the greatest from the best vintages may absolutely need several decades to reach their peak (and sometimes, rather common in older times, to mellow enough to become enjoyable).
Traditionally, the world-famous premier crus, Chateau Lafite, Chateau Latour, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau Haut-Brion come here to mind, but several of the originally non-classified from Pomerol and Saint-Emilion and a handful of the so-called super-seconds are not only suitable for this purpose, but command these days regularly even higher prices.
Demand is by now so high that most of these wines are only available by subscription, and have to be bought as primeurs, while still at an early stage of development in the cask, when their future is (even for recognized experts) difficult to predict. For the cost-conscious buyer the old rule “Better vintages, lesser crus – lesser vintages, better crus” is still valid, although more difficult to follow. Until the last decade of the last century it seemed to have been more easy to make a “safe” investment into a few cases of one of the famous reliables, bought young, or into a somewhat  undervalued deuxieme cru classe like Chateau Cos d’Estournel, when the quality already was apparent.
Still, one should not be discouraged – the most interesting things are just happening in front of our very eyes. In May 2010, a certain Mr. Parker unveiled his ratings on the 2009 vintage of red Bordeaux wines, claiming “The 2009 vintage may turn out to be the finest vintage I have tasted in 32 years of covering Bordeaux”. Other observers believe the Bordeaux 2009 vintage is “set to be the best in 60 years thanks to perfect weather conditions”, while at the same time concerns are raised it lacks consistency. Prices are expected to almost double within one year. While a Bordeaux wine investment is tempting to many, having access to an adequate wine storage facility or best, owning a good wine cellar providing no less than ideal conditions, should be part of the equation, too.

Bordeaux Wine Key Facts

Vineyards: 117000 ha in 60 Appellations, belonging to 22,000 estate owners (of which 8000 are winemakers) producing about 6 million hectolitres of wine yearly (the equivalent of 700 million bottles) with sales of more than 3 billion Euros. While output varies significantly among the brands, from just 30,000 bottles in the case of Chateau Petrus to 200,000 bottles in the case of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, the best will not exceed 6000 bottles per hectare of vines. 70 percent of the production is sold through wine merchants, nearly half of the winemakers are members of cooperatives responsible for a quarter of the total production, and after all, 10 percent of the companies make 90 percent of the sales.
Until 1969 the majority of the production was white wine, today whites cover just 11 percent of the planted surface area while 89 percent are reds.

Main grape varieties:
Although red Bordeaux wines are often referred and compared to Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlot is by far the most important grape variety with 63 percent of the planted surface area. Cabernet Sauvignon contributes 25 percent, Cabernet Franc 11 percent and others, like Petit Verdot and Malbec, just 1 percent. The composition depends on the wine, though, a Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac) is made of appr. 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and just 5 percent Merlot, while Chateau Petrus (Pomerol), of comparable quality, relies to 95 percent on Merlot.
Among the white Bordeaux wines, Semillion covers 53 percent, Sauvignon 38 percent, Muscadelle 6 percent, 3 percent are other varieties.