1961 Petrus

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Average critic rating : 99.5 points



An estate only needs to produce a handful of wines such as the 1961 Petrus to garner an international following. Not surprisingly, the 1961 Petrus was pure perfection. This fully mature wine possesses a port-like richness (reminiscent of the 1947 Petrus and 1947 Cheval Blanc). The color revealed considerable amber and garnet, but the wine is crammed with viscous, thick, over-ripe black-cherry, mocha-tinged fruit flavors. Extremely full-bodied, with huge amounts of glycerin and alcohol, this unctuously-textured, thick wine makes for an awesome mouthful. Imagine a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup laced with layers of coffee and cherry, and encased in a shell of Valrhona chocolate! ||The notes for this wine are taken from the description of Series III - Flight D of the 1995 tasting conducted in Munich by Helga and Hardy Rodenstock. Many years after the tasting from which this note derives allegations were made concerning the authenticity of old and rare bottles of wine sold by Hardy Rodenstock to collectors around the world. The matter has been the subject of numerous articles, litigation and at least one book. Mr. Parker believes that the wines served to him at this tasting were authentic so this note and the others from that specific tasting continue to be posted on eRobertParker.com. Wine Advocate.February, 1996



The fabled 1961 Petrus is a wine that I know an awful lot about, but never tasted myself. Indeed, it was researching my Pomerol tome that I came across the almost accidental and fortuitous circumstances that surrounded its birth. As always with bottles such as this, I inspected the bottle meticulously, not just the label but the glass, the capsule, the residue inside the capsule, the cork and finally the wine, notwithstanding enquiries about its provenance and juxtaposing directly with other bottles of Petrus tasted on the same day. And here we had context because it was served against a ex-château 1961 Palmer. Readers should also note that I showed Jean-Claude Berrouet images of the bottle, cork and capsule and he confirmed that to all intents and purposes, this was the real deal. Its color was commensurate with the vintage, deep at the core with think bricking at the rim. The 1961s have a telltale aromatic trait -- a distant seaweed/iodine-like tang that was present both here and in the 1961 Palmer. I did not discern a hedonistic Pomerol after 55 years, however, you could tell it must have been very concentrated in its youth with vestiges of black plum and blackberry. This marine-like scent ebbed away and the aromatics blossomed in a manner that all great Petrus do, the fruit changing slightly towards red in profile, mulberry and cranberry, all with bewitching delineation. The palate has exquisite balance; it is structured and with solid backbone, not foursquare but certainly more serious and less sensual than say, the 1964 Petrus. It has a wonderful, slightly grainy texture and it felt a little savory/cedar-like on the intense, sweet, luxuriant finish, perhaps those handful of Cabernet Franc vines influencing the persistent aftertaste with just a faint tang of bell pepper? It is a formidable Pomerol, even now in what I would describe as its middle age rather than dotage. As banal as it sounds, it was fundamentally a delicious mature Petrus of staggering beauty, a wine that articulates its age and vintage and place it was born with haunting clarity. Tasted September 2016. Oct 2016, www.robertparker.com, Drink: 2016-2030

Petrus: The Importance

Robert Parker describes Château Pétrus as “the undisputed king of Pomerol and probably the most famous red wine in the world”. He goes on to say that “there have been few Bordeaux wines that match this property for its extraordinary combination of power, richness, complexity and elegance.” At time of writing Pétrus has received nine perfect 100 points scores from Wine Advocate, four perfect 100 points from James Suckling, four perfect 20 points from Jancis Robinson, and no doubt many more to come.


Made in tiny volumes of around 3-4,000 cases per year, it is one of the world’s rarest and most expensive wines. Jeff Leve suggests that due to its scarcity “the majority of the price increases take place in the secondary marketplace”, resulting in it frequently selling for what Robert Parker describes as “a king’s ransom”. But this does nothing to dissuade connoisseurs because, as Neal Martin puts it, Pétrus “remains the vinous Holy Grail… There is a palpable sense of occasion when that unmistakable label with its bold vermillion lettering graces the table: an epiphany you will remember.”


In short this wine is the pinnacle of what can be achieved with Merlot, it has risen rapidly out of relative obscurity in the 1960s to become the almost ubiquitously present on the bucket lists of fine wine connoisseurs and critics. And it has achieved this based on its outstanding quality, as Neal Martin puts it: “…it is a damn delicious wine. Sounds obvious, but there are many iconic wines that are more impressive than actually delicious to drink. Château Pétrus is nothing more than one of the most satisfying, most profound wines that tastes as good at the end of the bottle as at the beginning.”


Petrus: The Insight

Neal Martin calls Pétrus: “an iconic wine familiar to many, tasted by few”, for those who haven’t been lucky enough to try it yet, he says: “Pétrus is a classically trained wine whose trademark is balance, poise, texture, complexity and longevity.”


But what makes it so special? One major factor is its unique terroir; it sits on a small 'button' of blueish clay in the Pomerol plateau. The rare smectite clay subsoil is 40 million years old, while the more gravelly soils that surround it are only around 1 million years old. Combined with low yields (Pétrus have been crop thinning since 1973) and perfectionist picking/sorting (grapes are harvested in one afternoon to avoid dew diluting the juice and berries are reputedly picked one at a time), the old vines on this terroir produce a richness that most Merlots cannot touch.


Château Pétrus of course deserves its fame. But few would argue against the instrumental influence of one couple and one man in pushing it alongside and then past the First Growths. Jackie and John F Kennedy – a style icon and a president – announced that that they were partial to Pétrus, which piqued a global interest in the brand. Momentum was continued in the 1980s by the frequent acclaim and high scores of a rising star critic in one Robert Parker. Petrus’ celebrity helped to drive up the quality of Pomerol as an appellation, and arguably Bordeaux as a whole.


Petrus: The Background

Pétrus is Latin for Peter, who guards the entrance to heaven, which seems strangely fitting for such a wine that is often cited as being otherworldly. Its history can be dated back to the 1750s, making it probably one of Pomerol’s earliest vineyards. Originally thought to have been part of Château Gazin, its worldwide fame didn’t explode until it came under the ownership of Jean-Pierre Moueix. He was a négociant who managed and distributed wines from a series of famous properties, including Trotanoy. He started doing the same for Pétrus and eventually ended up taking control in the mid-1960s.


Jean-Pierre Moueix shrewdly brought in Jean-Claude Berrouet, although a relative unknown entity in the winemaking world at the time, his first vintage in 1964 has been described as “immortal” by Neal Martin and “spectacular” by Robert Parker. When Jean-Claude Berrouet retired he passed the mantle to his son Olivier Berrouet, formerly of Cheval Blanc. Jean-Pierre Moueix similarly passed the running of Pétrus to his sons Jean-François (who, in one of Pomerol’s greatest investments, bought 5 exceptional hectares from Gazin) and Christian (Decanter’s Man of the Year 2008 and owner of Dominus). Etablissements Jean-Pierre Moueix now own La Fleur Pétrus, Hosanna, Trotanoy, Lagrange, La Grave, Magdelaine and Bélair-Monange to name just a few.


Pétrus’ 11.5 hectares of old vines, averaging around 40 years of age but some significantly older, are now entirely made up of Merlot. As there is no second wine at Pétrus, where the declassified juice ends up is one of the wine world’s great mysteries.

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