Who wants to drink Petrus?
Petrus, from Pomerol in Bordeaux is one of the most famous wines in the world today, this 100% Merlot sells for $2500+ upon release. Petrus has a long history, however, the real excitement started after World War 2 when Jean-Pierre Moueix received exclusive selling rights to Petrus. Jean-Pierre owned Petrus until his death in 2003 when Jean-François(his son) took over. The Moueix family is quite well known, not just due to Petrus but their other vineyards on the right bank of Bordeau including Trotanoy, La Fleur Petrus, Hosanna, Latour-a-Pomerol, as well as other properties. They also own the famous Napanook vineyard in Napa, California.
I recently assisted in a webinar listening to Christian Moueix(the other son of Jean-Pierre Mouseix), who as well as helping his brother in France, is extremely focused on his Napa estates. Christian studied agriculture in Paris, before venturing to UC Davis to study viticulture at the young age of 22. He was in California in the late 60s; which as you can imagine for a young Frenchman from a small Bordeaux village was quite a shock. After finishing his studies in UC Davis he went home, but not before travelling via Asia . Upon returning to Libourne at the age 24 he was put in charge of Petrus. Christian noticed that his father rarely walked through the vineyard, whereas he walked in the vineyard every day. Christian's focus is on quality, and one of the first viticulture changes he made was cutting the clusters, this of course helped improved the quality, yet back in the 70s this was condemned by the church. As most know, today this is standard practice throughout the world. Times were tough in Bordeaux during the 70's, and it was not until 1982 which was the first solid modern day vintage of Petrus, the rest, as they say is history.
When questioned about what he is proud of, his response shocked the audience. Most expected him to mention his multiple 100 point wines or how Petrus is one of the most globally recognized wines in the world but no, he was proud of his entry level wines between $15-30., you what? He goes on to explain about how in Bordeaux there are around 8500 Chateaux, yet most are unknown and struggle to survive and sell wine. He felt he could help these producers, and whilst collaborating with many vineyards he introduced an entry level Bordeaux, St.Emillon and Pomerol at prices everyone could afford. I tasted through the 2016 of all three of these wines recently and was shocked by the quality (But more about this later). He was proud since it showed how he was able to produced one of the most globally recognized wines in the world and as well as everyday wines. For the 99.9% of wine consumers, this is what is important, to have a daily wine that is affordable and which is well made.
He spoke at lengths about California which has really been his focus in recent years and the Napanook vineyard. He produces four wines in Napa: Dominus, Napanook, Othello and Ulysses. A winemaker who is so used to Merlot had to adapt when arriving in Napa, at first he tested Merlot, but it was too hot and Cabernet Sauvignon just worked better. Napanook is not irrigated or is there any acidification in the winemaking process. He has a certain hands off approach, and describes himself as a non-artist. He notes: "You cannot call yourself an artist, 99% of the work is done in the vineyard!". He is right. Christian also commented about the amount of irrigation in Napa which concerns him and was so intense in 2013 that it caused an earthquake!
The discussion returned to Pomerol and global warming. With global warming ever present, is Christian worried that there will be no more Merlot in Pomerol? His thoughts are that even with the possible addition of other varietals in Bordeaux and rising temperatures, Merlot will always stay in Pomerol, with the viticulturists or even the vines adapting. Darwin did propose a natural selection after all.
So while I decided against spending $1000s to taste Petrus for this post, I did purchase his three entry level wines to find out if Mr Merlot can produce well balanced and enjoyable wines at entry level prices.
Jean-Pierre Moueix Bordeaux 2016 - 88 points
This is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc sourced from the Bordeaux region and is a study I am doing on Jean-Pierre's entry level wines. At just over $17 a bottle this is pretty good value, there is nice color and aromas of dark cherry, plum, cacao, cedar, spice and a touch of tobacco. The palate is fresh with plenty of subtle fruit, this is easy drinking, not too much complexity and the mid-palate a little weak, but heck this is well balanced and nothing is too out of place.
Jean-Pierre Moueix St. Émilion - 90 points
Compared to the Basic Bordeaux you can already see a step up to the St. Emilion. This blend is composed of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. Dark fruit on the nose with spicy cherries, fresh herbs, crushed violets and black pepper. The palate was soft yet certainly more structured compared to the Bordeaux with crunchy pomegranates and crunchy red and dark berry fruit along with cedar, the tannins were subtle with a simple rich finish.
Jean-Pierre Moueix Pomerol - 91 points
Aromas of dark plum, cassis, mushroom, bitter chocolate, tobacco and fresh earth. The palate was plush, rich, and warming with notes of dark fruit compote, cacao, tobacco, and spice. The finish was lush and rich. Very strong for the price 91-92
So in answer to my original question? Yes, Mr. Merlot can produce entry level wines which are well balanced and enjoyable at a price which won't break the bank.