What to drink when you cannot afford Chateau Pétrus

Wine collectors such as myself are always in awe of people who have the ultimate collection. One may own all the best vintages of Lafite or the last 100 Chateau Yquems but one can only be humbled by Jean Pierre Moueix (1913 -2003). He has collected the best Pomerol estates and owns the Bordeaux brand that has no equals, Chateau Pétrus, a wine that sits in the same hallowed circle as Krug, Yquem or Lafite Rothschild.

‘JPM’, as he was known, collected a highly concentrated portfolio of Right Bank Chateaux. The family has 95% of its assets in one commune, Pomerol and ‘only’ two chateaux in St Emilion, La Magdelaine and Belair Monange, both of them Premier Cru Grand Classé.

Even more notable is that none of the Chateaux Etablissements JP Moueix own in Pomerol are at all similar in  geological terms or in character. Most of the ‘lesser’ names share the typical red gravel and clay soil. With the exception of Chateau Pétrus, its soil is made up of the most desirable rich dark clays giving double protection to the Merlot from heavy rain and drought. Parts of Trotanoy has a gravelly, rock-hard layer of iron-rich soil whereas the lower parts have the famous rich dark clay from Pétrus. Chateau La Grave as its name suggests,  sits on gravel mixed with sand. Whilst Lagrange’s soil is gravelly with two types of clay.

Although the family established only relatively recently in Libourne as a négociant in the 1930’s, it would be diplomatic to refer to Pomerol as unfashionable until 1959 when JPM hit the higher notes, creating rich, supple and approachable wines.  His objective was to cater to  the emerging US market with these easier drinking wines.

As a result Robert Parker fell in love with the commune. Contrary to their neighbours, the JP Moueix family try to make their wines express themselves with little extraction or over cooking of the grape juice.

Last April I was invited to taste JP Moueix’s  St Emilion and Pomerols at a dinner hosted by the urbane Edouard Moueix, JPM’s grandson, and their UK agents Corney & Barrow.

We started with the 2007s. This vintage had a spectacular April – similar to the spring we are witnessing this year, with temperatures averaging a high 29.6oC. The good weather continued into May and June with little coulure, when embryonic grapes fall of the branches, and Millerandage, when grapes are of different size and ripeness.  However, it was in August where the game was lost – temperatures were hot in early August but dropped precipitously for the rest of the month which was far from ideal. Things improved in September, it was the second warmest in 60 years and the first parcels were picked in September 14th and finished on the 2nd of October. As a result 2007 continued the streak of bad vintages ending in 7  that since the spectacular 1947 has not been broken. But as Edouard, ever the salesman, said  ‘they may carry the unlucky number 7 but they are still very drinkable wines’.

We started with St Emilions, Chateau Magdelaines 2nd wine Les Songes de Magdelaine 2006 and 2007, was interesting with the 2006 more feminine with a cocoa, fresh cassis and blueberry nose. The tannins were a curtain at the front of the palate, not unpleasant but needing another 2 to 4 years in the bottle. I awarded it 85 points out of 100. The 2007 version was much more expressive and had a much spicier nose, pepper and coffee with hidden fruit. I also thought it was less fresh with acidity levels far lower than the 2006. The 2007 was definitely ready to drink and I gave it an 84 as there was an astringent, green taste at the end and a bit “thinner” and shorter than the 2006.

This was followed by the Chateau Magdelaine 2007. It was far more elegant than its 2nd wine with a pleasant blueberry and coffee, perfumed nose. The tannins were thin and I thought the palate feel was missing something.  It could have done with another year or 2 in the cellar. 87 points.

We moved on to Pomerol with the Chateau Lagrange 2007 which lies in the northern part of Pomerol. I found this wine pleasant after the St Emilions with the classic Merlot nose popping out, blueberry and some green pepper with a grainy rustic palate and a thin coat of tannins. It probably needs another 2 years lying down and would be perfect with game. 91 points

I really enjoyed Chateau La Grave a Pomerol 2007 which was very feminine and perfect for drinking now. Very classic merlot complexity on the nose and a good fruity velvet palate. Tannins were barely perceptible. It had a long taste and represented a classic Pomerol. 92 points.

Then came the famous ‘trop ennui’ Estate, Chateau Trotanoy 2007 which had a strong masculine nose with a hint of cedar and green pepper, very broad tannins and a multitude of fruit. This is one for the testosterone driven drinker who likes his wines big. A good 93 pointer.

We took a breather after the 2007s and had a ripe Delamotte champagne to prepare us for dinner.

We had Ham Hock and Guinea Fowl Terrine and Broad bean, Peas and Wasabi Salad with a Chateau Magdelaine 2000 which I marked at 90 points. The nose was a bit ‘rusty’ added to a fruit compote, the palate was very ripe, but with a bitter end.

The main course was a a Roast Saddle of Welsh Salt Marsh lamb with Mange Tout and Pomme Fondant married with Chateau Trotanoy 1998. This wine had what a fellow voisin de table called the ‘nose of the evening’ which evolved from meaty, savoury to slightly nutty aromas with cassis and blue berries. The palate had a velvety mouth feel that would give pleasure for another 5 to 10 years. A monumental 95 points.

We finished off our dinner with a mix of English and Continental Cheeses and a Trotanoy 1990. The first glass unfortunately came form a corked bottle but the wait for our second glass was well worth it. For a 21 year old it was deeply satisfying, fresh and angelic. How do you rate a wine like this? It is currently à point and should be drunk with vigor!

All these wines showed the house style perfectly and these wines do not share the Pétrus price levels.  I would be happy to go home with the La Grave and Trotanoy 2007 – which are good drinking wines for now. For the big occasions the 1990 Trotanoy would definitely be served, but I would need will power and patience to keep the 1998 Trotanoy in my cellar. These wines may not be of the same calibre as Pétrus but they are pretty good on their own.

You should visit http://www.wine-searcher.com for the prices of these wines. It’s a great web based application where you can access the availability and prices of an enormous selection of wines.

K. Röell

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