A Century of Petrus – The Definitive Vertical tasting 1998 – 1897

A tasting through the history of one of the world’s most iconic and collectible fine wines was an experience unlikely ever to be repeated. The opportunity to taste, compare and re-taste through 27 vintages of Petrus dating from 1998 through to 1897 has to be the single best opportunity to understand the Petrus profile. To examine its ability to age and its consistency over a century of production helps quantify how this wine gained its status as the ultimate icon of, and the world’s most collectible, fine wine. Easy as it is to get carried away by the occasion, Petrus, like all the finest wines made in a marginal climate, is affected by vintage variation and it is clear that certain vintages outshine others. However, the chateau has always adhered to a strict quality regime and will choose not to make the wine every year if it is not up to scratch. In other lesser vintages, production is greatly reduced to retain quality. In the tasting through the flights this was evident with some quite average vintages for Bordeaux producing some wonderful wines.

The tasting came with the highest of expectations and yet easily surpassed them. Being handed a glass of Krug 1979, my birth year and arguably one of the all-time great vintages of Krug was about the best start you could hope for. The vinosity of the wine, it lush richness, fully developed yet bristling with energy provided the ’88 Montrachet by Drouhin with a tough act to follow. But it did so in spades. Easily the best Montrachet I have tasted, incredibly balanced, ethereal, silky and effortless on the palate. The hazelnut, praline flavours add some lush depth but the wine remained almost weightless. This is great mature Montrachet that on this occasion lived up to its revered reputation. The texture and balance were sublime. The two following Montrachets, a Giradin ’04 and a Comtes Lafon ’77 were also wonderful but the ‘88 really stood out as the white wine of the night.

Palate firmly calibrated, it was on to Petrus. What became remarkably clear as we tasted through the decades is that in top vintages the wine doesn’t really kick into its top gear until around 30 to 40 years of age, giving the younger vintages an exciting future ahead. The pristine condition, the freshness, the energy and plush textural richness of wines in their 30th, 40th, 50th years is truly mind blowing. The 1971, the 1961 and the 1959 were truly exceptional. The volume and depth on the mid palate of these wines was phenomenal. The combination of exotic aged fragrances and spice that remain beautifully preserved while at the same time exuding an impossible freshness is difficult to fathom. The architecture of the wines are built in a millefeuille-like structure that both teems with power and yet retains a paradoxical finesse. These are Chateau Petrus in full regalia, spreading their wings and strutting their stuff!

With tonight’s collection coming from the personal cellars of previous Petrus owner –the Loubat family and original UK agents Averys the provenance of the bottles was assured. It was fascinating to hear how Petrus, whilst having gained cult status fairly early on, was not something that met with universal appreciation and demand amongst UK merchants in the early days. The now agents Corney and Barrow retold the anecdote that the established UK merchants at the time used to joke about Avery’s commitment to Pomerol and to Petrus in particular, as if they were buying wines on the wrong side of the river! The now managing Director of Corneys, Adam Brett-Smith, praised Averys and the Belgium negociants – J P Moueix for their foresight into seeing the early potential of the region and investing in it at a time when everyone else’s focus was in the Medoc. Adam went on to stun the audience with the confession that it took them five years to sell through their allocation of 1982 Petrus. It just shows that the meteoric rise in popularity and the prices that followed over the last half century has taken the wine from cult status to the world’s most prized collectible.

Tasting through the vintages with a friendly excited and knowledgeable crowd was a fascinating and educational insight into the profile of this iconic wine. Thoughts amongst the tasters I sat with and my own tasting notes of each vintage are outlined below.

Petrus 1998

Incredibly youthful (at 20 years of age!). Tightly wound aromas, measured and needed coaxing from the glass but opens up beautifully after an hour in the glass. Smoky woody flavours present, but beautifully integrated with a great density on the palate. Smoked blackberry and blueberry fruits on the palate. A multi-layered tannin structure, texturally thrilling! The length is unreal and pulsating with energy on the intense yet elegant finish. Exciting future ahead.

Petrus 1995

Complex aromas that really chop and change in the glass. Initially milk chocolate and sweet spice then became more smoky, savoury and tobacco-like. There is also a lovely cool earthyness. Again great multi-layered texture, a vibrant power and then lovely delicate developed flavours on the finish – truffle, mushroom and a touch of chalkiness to the tannins on the finish. A wonderful length. Maybe doesn’t have the intensity of the ’98 and the two following wines but still very impressive. And will mature nicely.

Petrus 1990

This wine is opulent, showy, seductive and brilliant! Initially bloody, gamey aromas followed by more exotic spice and juicy plummy, earthy fruit aromas. The wine has incredible breadth. A density and counterpointing lift just wow the palate. It’s so plush, juicy, open and opulent. Again multi-layered tannin structure with an incredible length. Brilliant!

Petrus 1989

Whilst the 1990 is the plush, juicy vintage, the 1989 just takes it for its sheer surge of energy on the palate. It makes your hair stand on end. My note just says ENERGY. It has lovely weight, richness ripeness but has an incredible freshness too. It was commented that the ’89 is more like a 2010 whereas the 1990 is more similar to the plush 2009s and I totally agree. Two perfect wines back to back but showing two very different identities. So much still to come from these wines.

Petrus 1987 (from magnum)

Another very different expression. Incredibly Cabernet like – with distinct leafiness and lots of pyrazine greenness. There is a lean verticality to this wine and if you were told it was from the left bank you would think it was a fantastic wine. It is, but doesn’t have the plushness and silk-like texture you expect from Pomerol. Instead it has menthol, smoke, spice. Nicely integrated but a step down from the previous wines in the flight.

Petrus 1986

Incredible bouquet, lifted, floral, perfumed, very elevated. As it develops in the glass it takes on a caramel, milk chocolate aroma. The palate is wonderfully juicy with silky, plush texture and multi-layered tannins. There is some woodiness and some savoury undertones and maybe on revisiting it doesn’t retain the concentration when first tried. However very impressive and a real surprise for 1986.

Petrus 1985

Smoky, slightly vegetal but blows off. Texturally this is wonderful. Bright multi-layered tannins with a complex palate. Lots of juiciness to the fruit, the mid-weight palate is excellent, very vibrant. A touch of leafiness and savoury earth like flavours but pulsating with energy. Split the crowd a little but I thought it was very good.

Petrus 1982

This has a profound aroma. An integrated abundance of savoury, earthy, smoky tertiary aromas that despite development are incredibly elevated. Fantastic line of acidity runs through the wine and there is a tremendous lift on the palate and a pulsating power giving depth and breadth to the palate. Some nice glycerol juiciness coming into play with a very long potent powerful energetic finish. Moving into top gear. Awesome.

Petrus 1981

The first real disappointment. Questionable condition of the bottle. Medicinal aromas, slightly musty. Still underneath this marked nose is a nice juiciness and finesse but also some dustiness too. In better condition this could be a great wine. Unsure.

Petrus 1980

Another wine that split the crowd. For me it didn’t have that pulsating energy that seems at the centre of the better vintages. There is fruit, slightly raisined, a multi-layering of tannins but for me just lacking something.

Petrus 1979

Wonderful lift with a fragrant almost floral aroma. Lovely multi-layered texture. Incredibly juicy and succulent for a 40 year old wine. A real burst of energy on the palate and some developing glycerol sweetness. The length is slightly missing on the finish. Would love to have revisited but one bottle corked so only tasted once.

Petrus 1978

The ’78 is like a red hot chilli! Exotic savoury, earthy with a touch of red pepper, slight greenness but real firepower. Very spicy palate and energised but perhaps missing the plush fatness of a ripe vintage. Not a classic.

Petrus 1975

Not sure on the condition of the bottle I tried, nose slightly marked. Fine textural quality on the palate with good juiciness. Fruit slightly prune like and finish slightly short.

Petrus 1971

Amazing wine! Incredibly complex elevated aromas – bergamot, caramel floral bouquet, some fiery spice too. Wow! So much freshness. The mid-palate volume and depth is amazing. The breadth of the wine goes to the far limits of the palate. There is a fabulous plushness to the wine but the plushness is flavoured with aged preserved fruit flavours rather than primary ones and it makes it taste unique. The energy and focus of the wine is incredible. It is a fabulous wine, wine of the night for me.

 Petrus 1970

Juicy, ripe, multi-layered in structure. Lots of breadth. Ripe fruit and loads of energy. A very pretty wine but doesn’t have the length or power or sharp focus of the ’71.

Petrus 1969

Smoky, flinty with strange spicy rice cracker aroma. Vibrant but fairly light in body./ Earthy and some tomato like flavours. Cool vintage?

Petrus 1967

Questionable condition – tomato / musty fridge like aromas. Slightly dusty / marked aromas.

Petrus 1966

The first of a range of wines from the 60s and late 50s that were superb. A very ripe nose red plum even some tropical fruit along with smoky aromas. The wine was incredibly juicy, rich and ripe. It feels suspended in time. How can this wine be 50+ years old! Incredible balance, incredible integration as the tannins build effortlessly on the palate and is full of freshness.

Petrus 1964

Fresher than the ’66. Very structured wine with some tertiary spice and tobacco aromas. Lovely lift on the nose and on the palate with great structural verticality Lovely juiciness of fruit too, fleshing out the palate. Feels very balanced, stable. Excellent.

Petrus 1961

Another wow wine, one of my favourites. Striking aromas, very focussed, very fresh and another vintage that utterly pulsates with energy. The freshness to this wine is extraordinary. Another wine that seems suspended in time. It is in a beautiful place but can’t imagine it moving it seems so balanced and stable.

Petrus 1959

Slightly musty nose that soon blew off. Underneath are beguiling aromas of camphor and preserved fruit aroma – quite unique. Tremendous combination of focussed power and a seductive plushness to the palate. Another wow wine, with multi-layered tannins that just build and build. So much energy and power to this wine. Some slight bitterness on the finish but the intensity overall is amazing.

Petrus 1955

Savoury / vegetable stock aromas, short finish. Lacks depth or finish you would expect. Condition?

Petrus 1953

?

Petrus 1949(*)

Great condition for a wine now hitting its 70th birthday. Very smoky, slight meatiness and full of spice. Multi-layered tannin framework with vibrant acidity still present. Still lots of energy in this wine with a good pulse and impressive length. Great wine.

Petrus 1945

Unusual sundried tomato aroma (age) but underneath the wines has great energy and good vinosity and power.

Petrus 1928

Lovely floral aromatics. Perfumed. Lighter wine more delicate.

Petrus 1897

Great energy, breadth and freshness for a wine at 122! Tremendous energy and incredibly vibrant. Full of spice and tertiary flavours but structurally sound.