Petrus – The Most Expensive Wine?

This evening I was able to taste one of the rarest and highly sought after wines in the world. Petrus. From the right bank of Bordeaux, Chateaux Petrus (pronounced PAY-troos) comprises of 30 acres of vineyard which are planted to 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc in the Pomerol AOC north of Saint-Emilion. Yes, you read right, it is mostly Merlot. Production averages roughly 4,000 cases per year. Not a tiny production, but not large by any means in comparison to Lafite or Latour which average 20,000+ cases. Merlot grows best in clay soil and that is what most of Pomerol is composed of. This is Bordeaux at one of its finest. Pauillac being the other “finest” place on the left bank of the Gironde River in Bordeaux. Petrus’s history dates back to the late 19th century and was purchased by the modern day owners, the Moueix (pronounced moh-EX) family, from the Arnaud family in 1961. Now, the 1992 vintage was a difficult one in Bordeaux, but Petrus managed to still create a wine worthy of the ages. Robert Parker gave it a 90, the Wine Spectator gave it a 98, and the lowest price for it I saw online was $899. This is the most expensive wine I have ever tasted. How was it? Well, it was unlike anything I have ever had before. Was it the best? It was better than the 1994 Cheval Blanc I had last year which is a top flight wine from the right bank of Bordeaux whose vineyards lie on the border of Pomerol and the Medoc in Saint Emilion. Was it better than the 2003 and 2004 Chateau Angelus? I’ll say that it is the best wine from Bordeaux that I have had with this kind of age to it. Still concentrated and complex, yet in a stately, mature way. I get classic aged aromas of tobacco, smoke, leather, and dried currants. I also noted hints of petrol and mint, unusually for a wine of this age. I could imagine this wine in its youth, dense, complex with deep red and black fruit aromas and flavors mixed with smoky oak and silky smooth tannins (mainly from the Merlot).

Our second wine was the California cousin of Petrus, the 2004 Dominus Proprietary Red Wine ($115). Young, rich, and perfectly ripe, the 2004 was from magnum and served decanted. This wine is a great example of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (with small doses of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot). Not overly oaked, not overly ripe, it has the right amount of acidity and tannin to balance the ripe fruit. The nose and palate combine to reveal notes of black cherry, currants, sweet oak, and herbs.

I can’t resist telling the Dominus story as it is a subsection of one of the least known family winery stories from the Napa Valley. No, not the Mondavi’s but they had a hand in its creation. Christian Moueix, son of Jean-Pierre Moueix who turned Petrus into the world famous wine that it is when he led the purchase in 1961 of Petrus, traveled to the Napa Valley in the early 1980’s in search of a vineyard to bring the Petrus name and style to the new world wine and latch on to the rapidly growing wine region. Moueix found the 140 acre Napanook vineyard via an introduction from the man who started the modern day Napa Valley craze – Robert Mondavi.

Robert Mondavi introduced Moueix to Robin Lail, daughter of the late (and great) John Daniel Jr. Daniel, who used to own and reside on the Inglenook estate in the mid 1960’s and in many circles is considered the best winemaker in Napa Valley history. His Inglenook wines from the 40’s and 50’s are still opened and enjoyed by wine connoisseurs on the rare occasion a bottle surfaces or Francis Coppola decides to share (he bought most of the Inglenook Estate from Heublin, Inc. in the 1975 and its wine cellars with stocks of old Inglenook vintages). Robin and her sister Marcia kept the Napanook Vineyard in the Daniel family after her father sold Inglenook to a large alcohol conglomerate in 1964 (Heublin, Inc, now Constellation Inc. after about 4 sales and mergers). John Daniel as passionate as he was about winemaking was not a good businessman and had to eventually sell the winery to retain the family’s wealth. The Daniel daughters Lail and Smith decided that Moueix was the right fit for the vineyard and partnered until 1995 when the daughters sold their shares to Moueix. Robin thought up the name “Dominus”, meaning “God” in Latin, and Christian agreed it was a great name and very marketable. Not to mention the stuff inside the bottle being great, the Napanook vineyard lives on in the Dominus ($115) and second label wine Napanook Napa Valley ($39).

Dominus has excelled from its initial 1983 vintage. It still does well as Parker scored the 2001-2004 95, 96, 95 and 94 points respectively. The Dominus Proprietary red wine (not Napanook) we tasted tonight was from the 2004 vintage. Lisa and I both liked it and would definitely recommend picking some up for a special occasion as its not $899 per bottle. Its a mere penance at an average cost of about $100 compared to the Petrus. The Dominus winery is closed to the public and is located in the Napa Valley in the northernmost part of the Yountville district, bordering the famed Oakville district, just west of highway 29.

At the tasting we took home with us a great bottle for dinner that I have to mention (pictured right). Tonight with dinner we had a great table wine from the Rhone. Priced at $5.99, the Paul Jaboulet Aine “Table du Roy” paired well with salmon marinated in a pomegranate sauce. Paul Jaboulet is famous for one of the best Hermitage (Syrah) bottlings from the Rhone (avg. price $150). This non vintage (NV) Grenache (the grape) blend was great. Much more interesting than your average $10 school night wine, I would buy it again. Red berry fruit meshed well with the spicy and meaty notes you find so often in a Provencal wine from the South of France.




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