This piece (?) was originally posted on the Renaissance Vintners blog. What I didn’t mention there is that, well, just over 24 hours prior to this bottle being opened I was fairly certain that I would be meeting St Peter much sooner than I had hoped. Thankfully I was wrong. Meeting him this way was an exceptional conclusion to a nasty 24 hours.
I’ve inspected countless bottles of Pétrus over the past few years. I’ve even written a brief guide to the labels. Before drinking the contents of this one the significance of the pearls were lost on me…
Unlike my colleague Ian, who drinks much better than I do, my Pétrus experiences have been limited to tasting rather than drinking. 2003 from the barrel in 2004 and again from bottle in 2012. A corked bottle of 1964 at around the same time (which was served anyway). A glass of the 1975 sometime in the late 2000s, courtesy of a generous friend at a neighbouring table at the now (sadly) gone Ransome’s Dock. The 2007, 2010 and 2011 at blind tastings over the past few years, and that’s it. Which may sound like a fair bit of Pétrus but, until last night, I’d never really had the opportunity to properly drink Pétrus, to get stuck in. No notebook (though I’ve mentally scored it), no tasting-sized sample. Just a magnum of the 100 point 1990, accompanied by some quite outstanding Ibérico Pork Ribs at the brilliant Ember Yard.
Straight out of the bottle (well, magnum, double-decanted an hour or so previously), you have to work a little to see the class. The incredible length gives it away but, that aside, you might fear an underwhelming evening. Opening bottles like this is a little like meeting your heroes – it can occasionally go wrong. This didn’t, but the initial introduction was a little frosty.
Pomerol is all about clay. Every proprietor in the region will claim that his or her property sits on a button of clay but the Pétrus button of clay is the real one, and it is this that initially dominates or, rather, this is the first part of the character to show. And then it just gets better, and better, and better.
There are few better ways of enjoying a bottle of something special than opening a large format. In the case of something like 1990 Pétrus, the sheer decadence is a pleasure though it isn’t necessarily gluttony. Drinking the contents of something that, when unopened, is worth a few thousand pounds can be looked at as obscene, or it can be seen as exactly the opposite: the monetary value of the juice is mere accountancy, it’s all about the juice. And this was the case. This was all about the juice.
After a few minutes in the glass, the genie started to emerge from the lamp. The clay was still there, indeed it stays throughout, but is slowly joined by caramel, spice, toffee, vanilla – to be honest the nose, and the mouth, becomes so kaleidoscopically complex that it is hard to nail anything down. To steal someone else’s note (on 1945 Latour), the flavours are like “tastes coming at you like Luke Skywalker being attacked with hundreds of bursting light bullets”.
I’ve been thinking about the wine ever since, and that Merlot quote from Paul Pontallier at Margaux: “you can’t make great wine from merlot”. 1990 Pétrus is easily the best wine I’ve drunk this year, and there has been some pretty stiff opposition. What keeps me thinking is that, not only is it Bordeaux, which to my mind is secondary in sensuality to Burgundy, it’s Merlot – a pretty crappy grape variety. And it’s a Merlot from Bordeaux that puts Burgundy in the shade. With the exception of 1961 Palmer, I can’t recall such a sensual claret and struggle to think of a wine that so seduced me, one that I could drink more and more and more of. There was almost something physically seductive about it.
The score? An easy 100 points if only because the experience couldn’t have been better. I’m not sure that the beers that followed were such a good idea, though.