A casual morning with Christian Moueix over a glass of Petrus

A casual morning with Christian Moueix over a glass of Petrus

by Chuck Hayward


petrus

Conveniently enough, we happened to be staying in Libourne in easy walking distance to their location. It seems like everything regarding the 2008 vintage, as it tends to be with any vintage, really boils down to the weather (it’s either a saving grace or spells impending doom) so I’d be remiss in not making a comment about it this morning. My colleagues who have made the trip here before bemoan the early spring weather in Bordeaux, explaining how miserable and gloomy it usually is. I should probably consider buying a lottery ticket because I’ve really lucked out with the weather - it’s been nothing but sunshine and crisp breezes since we’ve arrived. I almost feel guilty mentioning it for fear that I’m going to jinx myself on any return trips.

Getting slightly back on track, this was one of those mornings you envision while dreaming about France: old men strolling slowly down the narrow sidewalks holding a cane in one hand, a baguette wrapped in paper in the other; grizzled shopkeepers squeezing in one last cigarette outside their stores before beginning a long day of work; all of this while we stroll on the banks of the Dordogne River and a mild breeze rustles the branches of the leafless trees.

I could wax poetic all day about this, but other than other hopeless romantics like me, who really cares? Let’s get to the wine already! I’ll save the effusive language for the wine, because believe me, the ones we tried today definitely deserve it.

We showed up to a packed house. It was uncertain at first if our appointment had been properly scheduled so one of the organizers asked us to wait while they checked. Within moments the enigmatic Christian Moueix came around the corner and greeted us warmly. “Of course, of course,” he explained, “we have a very busy schedule today. Please allow us a few minutes to let the room clear and we’d be happy to accommodate you.” This was great news for us – here was a chance to try a lineup of wines we had pretty high hopes for, just on name recognition alone. The crowing glory of today: an opportunity to try the highly acclaimed Petrus.

After a brief wait we were allowed to taste (in hindsight if Monsieur Moueix had said “no, come back on Friday”, I gladly would have missed my flight home). We started with two wines from chateaux for which the Moueix family has exclusive distribution rights. These were in a group of four St. Emilion wines that performed much to our expectations based on the previous day’s tastings – approachable, pleasing wines with decent acidity and softer tannins.

From there it was onto a dozen wines from Pomerol. I’ve already come out and said that I think the Right Bank is clearly outperforming the Left Bank when it comes to 2008, but I’ve heard a few rumors that Pomerol may be the star from this side of Bordeaux. I’d be foolish to confirm something like this after tasting such a small quantity of wines, but if what I tasted today is indicative of the rest of the region then I know where I’m likely to focus my attention.

Full notes are included below, but I’d like to comment on our talk with Mr. Moueix after our tasting. I can only speak for myself, but I suspect the rest our group had a similar impression upon sampling these wines. Overall, I found them to be really deep wines, yet they maintained precision and focus. The highlight for me is that these feel like they will be approachable early and the tannins, while big in some wines, are round and have already begun to integrate nicely into the wines.

Moueix explained that he accomplished this by focusing on extracting the more mild and manageable tannins from the skins of the grapes and did so with a 10-20 day maceration period. So many producers these days tout their extended macerations (30-40 days, even more sometimes) and wear this as a badge of honor. While this often results in much bigger wines, these tend to be undrinkable upon release and there’s always that lingering doubt of whether or not the tannins will really resolve themselves in the wine. He cited the 1986 Mouton Rothschild as a good example – a huge, monolithic wine, Robert Parker suggests that this may still not really be ready for another couple of years. Although it’s likely to last until the beginning of the next century and has received 100 points, it’s not everyday that this kind of wine comes along and who wants to spend 30 years to cellar a wine that may or may not come around?

In contrast, the 1975 Petrus (RP98) went just 11 days from crush to the time that the tanks were drained and it’s still a behemoth of a wine. It just goes to show what great talent is capable of when it comes to high quality wine. I had the pleasure of tasting with Stephane Derenoncourt yesterday, another great talent in Bordeaux, yet I feel that his skill is really apparent with his work in the vineyards. His success is derived by painstakingly coaxing all of the best elements from grape and there is certainly truth in the saying that ‘great wines are made in the vineyard, not in the cellar’. But after speaking with Christian Moueix it’s clear that it can certainly happen the other way as well. Here is a man who has had great success through winemaking and I think that Petrus is the greatest example of that – a massive, masculine wine with long-term aging potential, often times overwhelmingly tannic at first, but time and again a wine where the fruit carries that tannins and not the other way around.

TASTING NOTES FROM JEAN-PIERRE VINS:

2008 Puy-Blanquet (St. Emilion Grand Cru) – Aromas of black cherry, mint and bitter chocolate. This has a light, easy entry and a charming character to the fruit. A note of spice presents itself in addition to sweet, round tannin that linger on the pleasing finish. 87-89 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines

2008 La Serre (St. Emilion Grand Cru Classe) – Quite aromatic on the nose, with a darker character than the previous wine, showing blackberry and raspberry notes with a touch of smoke. Smooth, round and viscous this has an excellent mouthfeel and there’s a subtle bit of creamy oak and caramel on the finish. 89-91 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines

2008 Magdelaine (St. Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe) – From a 28 acre vineyard planted to 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc on 2/3 limestone soil and 1/3 clay-limestone. An immediate neighbor to Ausone and Belair. Rather herbaceous and mineral driven on the nose, I found this wine to be a little thin and showing decidedly green flavors. The tannins being very controlled and restrained was a redeeming quality. 84-86 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines

2008 Belair-Monange (St. Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe) – This was formerly known as Chateau Belair and the addition of Monange to the title is in homage to Anne-Adele Monange, the grandmother of Christian Moueix and great-grandmother of Edouard Moueix, the Managing Director of this property. The nose was a little subdued at the moment, but notes of fruitcake, cherry and spice were lurking in there. Medium bodied and round but lacking a certain depth to the fruit, the tannins are quite firm on the finish of this traditionally styled wine. 86-87 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines

2008 Plince (Pomerol) – Very aromatic with blackberry, thyme, spice, herbs and floral notes. Soft entry and a good mid-palate showing a good quantity of fruit and weight. The tannins are integrating nicely and this has fine length. 87-89 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines

2008 Lafleur-Gazin (Pomerol) – From a 21 acre vineyard planted to 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc on silt, gravel and clay soils. Located on the northern slope of the plateau of Pomerol between Lafleur and Gazin, hence the name. The nose reveals fresh, clean and pure aromas of blue fruit, peppermint and spice. Starts slow on the palate then gradually builds showing good weight and balanced acidity. A nice element of chocolate on the finish and the tannins are right where they belong. A solid effort. 90-92 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines

2008 La Grave a Pomerol (Pomerol) – From a 19.5 acre vineyard planted to 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc on gravel with some light clay. Located on the western slope of the plateau of Pomerol. Primary grape aromas, but also rather fresh with notes of anise, herbs and mint this is actually quite appealing in its size and ripeness on the nose. Good balance and weight with the tannins in check, the only downside is the wood flavors slightly overpowering the fruit and the finish ends a little abruptly. 87-89 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines

2008 Bourgneuf (Pomerol) – Deep and dark aromas of raspberry, black cherry and anise. This has a smooth entry but feels a little heavy and dull and the tannins are persistent on the finish. 85-87 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines

2008 Certan Marzelle (Pomerol) – From a 5 acre vineyard planted to 100% Merlot on gravel over clay soils. A little tight and closed, with subdued notes of strawberry, cherry and herbs on the nose. Medium body but rather dull overall this finishes with a trace of oak and medium tannin displaying some grip. 84-86 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines

2008 Latour a Pomerol (Pomerol) – From a 20 acre vineyard planted to 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc on 2/3 gravelly/clay soil and 1/3 clay/silt soil. A very aromatic nose revealing attractive notes of raspberry, dark earth, smoke and tree bark. With a smooth and sweet entry, this has a great presence of fruit on the palate and superb balance. Quite rich, with good weight, length and complexity there is a bit of chocolate and oak on the finish. 91-93 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines

2008 La Fleur-Petrus (Pomerol) – From a 35.5 acre vineyard planted to 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc on gravel soil. Located just across from Petrus. A big and juicy nose with elements of pine and shaved wood complementing the fruit. Very supple and rich with low tannins and a very lengthy finish this is rather modern in style. I only wish the finish was longer. Great! 91-93 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines

2008 Hosanna (Pomerol) – From a 34 acre vineyard planted to 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc on gravel soil. This wine has a clean and fresh nose exhibiting deep aromas of raspberry and black cherry. Soft and sweet on the entry, this builds on the mid-palate and finishes with persistent and round tannins. Very nice. 89-91 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines

2008 Providence (Pomerol) – From a 10 acre vineyard planted to 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc on clay/gravel soil. Very modern stylistically, this shows seem decent complexity. Aromas of black cherry, wild berries and strawberry with a meaty notes presenting themselves in the mix. Similar to the Hosanna but more tannic. 89-91 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines

2008 Certan de May (Pomerol) – A big wine that is very fruit forward both aromatically and on the palate. Notes of sweet cherries, anise, mint and a bit of herbs. However there is also a degree of elegance that is very promising for this wine. Anxious to see how this one develops. 90-92 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines

2008 Trotanoy (Pomerol) – From a 18 acre vineyard planted to 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc on clay/gravel soils and dark clay. Has a style similar to Petrus due to the similar nature of the soils. The nose on this wine just jumps out of the glass and hits you directly. Very impressive, with lovely notes of raspberry jam, strawberry, cherry, truffles and a trace of minerals. Although big, this starts slowly in the mouth and builds up to a nice crescendo. Quite firm but nice and round tannins has me very hopeful for the true potential of this wine. 91-93 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines

2008 Petrus (Pomerol) – From a 28.5 acre vineyard planted to 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc on dark clay soil. Precise and focused, this is a phenomenal wine. Wild berry, strawberry, black cherry, spice and earth notes are all present on the complex nose. Big and full bodied, with a glycerol feel on the palate, this wine delivers a mouthful of pure and complex fruit. Exquisite, round tannins and a long, sweet finish. As it should be, the star of the show. Bravo. 92-94 points, John Perry, JJ Buckley Fine Wines