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A Visit with Pétrus' Christian and Edouard Moueix

Touring the Pétrus and Bélair-Monange vineyards, then the cellars of Providence to taste the Moueix family's lineup of 2009 Bordeauxs
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Dec 14, 2010 11:00am ET

Along with my colleague Thomas Matthews, I have been in Bordeaux this month. To evaluate the 2008 vintage in bottle, we've blind tasted nearly 450 reds, dry whites and Sauternes. You can read the first batch of reviews in the upcoming Dec. 15 edition of our weekly Insider newsletter, available only to WineSpectator.com subscribers. Now I am visiting different châteaus to check out the evolution of the 2009 wines. Read about my first stop, with Jean-Philippe Delmas at Château Haut-Brion, in my previous post.

 

One thing is for sure around here: None of the top dogs are sitting on their laurels. While the elite wines of Bordeaux are fetching prices that can seem absurd, the money is clearly being put back into the wineries. Both Cos-d'Estournel and Latour have recently completed major cellar overhauls while both Cheval-Blanc and Mouton-Rothschild are in the midst of doing their own. There's new construction planned at both Châteaus Margaux and Pétrus as well. Bordeaux may be a wealthy region (at the top end), but it is certainly not idle.

Christian Moueix

When I asked for a visit with the elder statesman of the Right Bank, I figured we'd meet at his office, talk and taste a bit. When he said to meet him in the parking lot at Pétrus, the famed Pomerol estate, I figured I'd be lucky enough to get a cellar tour as well (cellar tours are not automatically given around here).

When I pulled up at Pétrus, Christian and his son Edouard met me—and I noticed Christian had his pruning shears with him.

"Let's take a walk in the vineyard," he said. "I want to show you some things."

Now we're talking ...

It's only a few short steps to get into the middle of Pétrus' modest 12 hectares of vines. And from there what you see is Pomerol fanning out around you.

"It's a bump," said Moueix. "A gentle bump, but a bump, here at Pétrus. We are very proud of our 40 meters of elevation," he added dryly.

"Below the bump, just a few meters lower, is the plateau of Pomerol, with clay and gravel soils," said Moueix. From there he points out the properties that ring Pétrus, like spots on a sundial, La Fleur on the north side, La-Fleur-Pétrus on the northeast, Gazin on the east, then L'Evangile, Conseillante, Vieux-Château-Certan, Certan de May and Trotanoy. It's clear the plateau is home to the top properties, which tend to be smaller and as a group make up only about one-third of Pomerol's 800 hectares.

From there the appellation dips again, down to a belt of clay where Bourgneuf, Beauregard, Nenin, Plince, Petit-Village and others have their vines. A final ring of sand then marks the limits of the appellation, where less expensive soils mean properties can develop larger vineyard plots—the labels that are the more everyday, accessible wines of the appellation, such as de Sales, Clos Rene and L'Enclos.

As for Pétrus, Olivier Berrouet is taking over the winemaking, following in the footsteps of his father, the longtime winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet. The Moueix team has managed the estate since 1952 (Moueix's father purchased it in 1964) and the Ets. J.-P. Moueix négociant house has been its exclusive distributor all along—that is unlikely to change. It's clearly something dear to Moueix's heart.

"I'm happy to say I've pruned each of the 60,000 vines on the estate," he said. "For me, pruning is like jogging for someone else. It's what makes me feel good, knowing I did it at the end of the day."

From there we drive over to St.-Emilion, to see the efforts underway at Château Bélair-Monange, which Moueix purchased in 2008 (changing the name from Bélair). It's one of the prime spots on St.-Emilion, at the top of the hill, neighboring Ausone, with prime parcels on both limestone terraces and clay soils below. It's a rarity in the appellation to have both.

"Bélair fell asleep," said Edouard. "We are exciting about bringing it back."

It will not be easy. An old parcel of vines dating to the turn of the century had to finally be pulled up as production had dropped precipitously—it will now lie fallow for a few years. The limestone quarries underneath the château and vineyards have been pilfered over the years for their stones, to the point where they are structurally tenuous. Moueix is now shoring them up

"We asked if anyone in the appellation wanted to help us, because St.-Emilion is like Swiss cheese now underneath," said Eduoard. "This is a big problem. But most people kept their heads down when we asked."

When I mentioned I'd had a bottle of the '98 Bélair a few nights earlier, both Christian and Eduoard raised their eyebrows inquisitively, wanting to know how it was. "A wine with beautiful aromas, perhaps a touch austere on the palate, but it sang for a few minutes," I said.

"That is great to hear," said Christian. "We know how much potential there is here. It's difficult to find the balance between the austerity and perfume the limestone gives, with the power and flesh the clay parcels give. It takes 10 years to understand a vineyard, so we are just at the beginning here."

The tour continued at Providence, back in Pomerol, where the small, efficient cellar has both cement and stainless steels vats.

"I love the cement vats for their temperature inertia," said Moueix. "I am a bit old school. But they are large so it's hard to do smaller parcel selections in them, and we are going more and more that way as we look for precision. The stainless steel tanks give us that flexibility."

Precision is now the buzzword around Bordeaux. It's what all the vignerons say they are striving for in their wine, the way Rhône vignerons talk of minerality for example. In Bordeaux, it's popular to tout the latest technological toy—an optical sorter for example—as the châteaus try to leapfrog each other in pursuit of the precision.

"I am looking for precision," said Moueix, when I press him on the issue. At what point does human control of the winemaking process become too much? Can you eliminate complexity by searching for an unattainable goal of perfect precision?

"It's true, we have become maniacs with selection. I agree at some point it could be too much. This is a question we have to ask ourselves," said Christian, before turning to Edouard. "We should discuss this at the next meeting," he said.

"You're right," said Edouard. "There is the old school and then there is technology. They can work together if you ask yourself first, before you try something new, 'Who am I?'. If you can answer yourself that question, then you can move forward."

"I think of the past," said the elder Moueix. "The '90 Pétrus for example, I made without temperature control and without parcel selection. I think it turned out to be a pretty good wine. But '00, '05, '09, I see what progress and advancements have allowed us to do in the cellar, and it's truly amazing how far we have come."

 

We then taste through a range of the family's top '09 bottlings, starting first with the Château Magdelaine St.-Emilion 2009, which offers a tight beam of mineral and very cherry/raspberry fruit. It's pure and unadorned, tight on the finish and very, very solid. The Château Bélair-Monange St.-Emilion 2009 shows a beautiful dusty edge, with floral, perfume and raspberry sauce notes and a silky texture. The long chalky spine is buried deep on the finish, sweet and pure. The Providence Pomerol 2009 is super lush, but refined at the same time, with raspberry, cherry compote and red licorice. It stays pure and driven and has latent power but this is about finesse, even in a grippy vintage like '09. All three are easily outstanding, and the Bélair is the one I'd buy now to start a vertical off, as Moueix brings the property back to life.

The Château La Fleur-Pétrus Pomerol 2009 (Merlot with 10 percent Cabernet Franc) is very tight today and showing its wood too, with a briar note on the edges of the dark raspberry, blackberry and cherry compote notes. It has a long, spice- and tobacco-filled finish and is showing lots of range and plenty of grip too. The Château Hosanna Pomerol 2009 (Merlot with 20 percent Cab Franc) is denser and darker than the La Fleur-Pétrus, with more black currant, licorice and blackberry fruit notes. It's tighter grained too, with sweet spice hints on the slightly muscular finish. Despite the power, it's seamless; both it and the Hosanna flirt with classic quality.

"This estate was bought in '99, and as I said before at Bélair, I always feel you need 10 years to start to understand a vineyard," said Moueix of Hosanna. "So the timing was perfect for '09."

We finish with the Château Trotanoy Pomerol 2009, which is dense and very layered, with superb length to the gorgeous blackberry and raspberry fruit and loads of buried sweet tobacco, mulled spice and fruitcake notes, all pure and stylish. It's a clear classic in the making.

As we finish, we step back outside and Moueix, who has been hanging on to those pruning shears, said "If I don't get to prune a vine though, I will not be happy, so come, and let's do one."

Moueix then demonstrated how he wants a straight cane, so the shoot length can be even and the fruit evenly spaced, all aimed at homogeneous ripening. I watch as Moueix snips away the old shoots and then positions the cane for next season. It's precision, from the ground up. But the smile on his face tells you it's not mania, just a long-simmering passion.

[You can now follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/jmolesworth1.]

Chris A Elerick
Orlando, FL —  December 14, 2010 3:31pm ET
and they didn't offer you a taste of the '09 petrus because...
Hans Vinding-diers
Patagonia —  December 14, 2010 3:49pm ET
Now you are talking!
James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  December 14, 2010 4:20pm ET
Chris: it's always e vigneron's choice to decide what to show. I neither ask for nor demand anything specific when it comes to tasting in a cellar. I'm usually just happy that a vigneron gave me some of their time...
Jeremiah Morehouse
Sacramento CA —  December 14, 2010 4:45pm ET
I agree James, you have to go with the flow. To get to tour the vineyard and such though is like a magical dream. Wish I was in your shoes....
Jeremiah Morehouse
Sacramento CA —  December 14, 2010 5:39pm ET
Hi again James, I know its a little off topic, but since you are the ace of the Rhone Valley can you recommend a wine bar in Avignon where i can go and sample many of the wines of the region. Thanks much, Cheers.
James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  December 15, 2010 2:53am ET
Jeremiah: no worries. Alas, no recommendations for Avignon. It's out of the way when working in CdP and the traffic can be a real hassle. I never go there, to be honest...
Marc A Dibella
Hartford, Connecticut —  December 15, 2010 1:18pm ET
James,

I can only imagine how challenging it must be to take on a new region, especially one with as high a profile as Bordeaux. I did have one question for you after glancing through the latest insider. I understand that drink dates are intended to be a ball park thing and not an exact science. However I found it interesting that many of the better known wines you rated were accompanied by a 2020 end date. Even if '08 is considered a lesser vintage this would give these wines less than a decade of drinkability once delivered to the consumer. As I know you are aware, even in lesser vintages many of these wines have no trouble aging for two or more decades. Can you clairify this? Thanks.
Maximiliano Soto
Costa Rica —  December 15, 2010 2:02pm ET
Mr. Hans Vinding Diers: The other day I had a Noemia 06. It was beautifully velvety textured with very interesting sweet tannins. I loved it! Also the J. Alberto! Congrats
James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  December 15, 2010 3:15pm ET
Marc: Great question.

My recommended drink windows (drink recs we call them here) often seem conservative because I view them a bit differently than most other critics. I believe wines should be drunk when they have the most to show, and I believe that while many wines can easily endure cellaring, few truly benefit from or require cellaring. It's an important distinction to make...

Among the older wines I've had on the trip, I've had quite a few '82s. The Haut-Brion, as an example, is beautiful. It also needs to be drunk up. It's now 28 years from vintage date, from a great vintage, and a first growth. And it's also not getting any better. Sure, a drink rec of "now through 2015" would've sounded very impressive for the '82 when it was released, but that's not the point of a drink rec. Drink recs are never meant to be some Mission: Impossible folder that self destructs at a pre-ordained time.

Is the '82 Haut-Brion falling apart today? No. Will it fall apart soon? No. But it's evolution is done, in my opinion. Hold it for another 5, 10 years or more and at best you'll get what you have now. At worst you'll get a wine on the decline. And if you've spent a lot of money and cellared a wine a long time, who wants that? Think what you would've missed in the wine's development if you had waited until the back end of a 30+ year long drink window.

Now with 2008, we're talking about a less than outstanding vintage - anyone want to put it up against '82, '89, '90, '95, '98 (right bank), '00, '05 or '09? We need to put things in their proper hierarchy and have some perspective, I think. Plus, many wines are now made in a style that ameliorates any hard edges, overt tannins or edgy acidity. So, other than waiting for secondary notes to develop, there is less need to age wine than in the past.

That's why my drink recs for the 2008s tend to say wait 8 to 10 years at most for the top wines. They'll hit their plateau there, then last for some time. They will endure from that point, but won't necessarily change for better; thus i can't "recommend" cellaring them to some extended point.

Ultimately, aging wine is a personal preference. In my position, I prefer to guide people to err on the side of caution first, Then they can determine from there how far they want to push the wines they are aging...
Marc A Dibella
Hartford, Connecticut —  December 15, 2010 4:53pm ET
James,

Thank you for your detailed response.
Mustafa Akyurek
Shrewsbury, MA —  December 15, 2010 9:11pm ET
Hello James;

Thanks for the wonderful explanation. My question is how do you come to a conclusion about a drinking period such as 10 years but not, for instance, 15 years; in other words, how do you in general predict this mathematically when you taste a wine.

Thanks again.

Mustafa Akyurek
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  December 15, 2010 10:44pm ET
James, I notice that you use the term "mulled" to describe several fruit flavors in your tasting notes. Could you explain what that term describes?
James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  December 16, 2010 3:50am ET
Sitting in the Admirals Club in Paris, so excuse any typos in advance...

Mustafa: it's not a mathematical calculation. As I get a feel for the vintage in general, and based on previous experience, I'm able to make an educated guess as to how the wines will age. Top '08 reds should do nicely over a 10-15 year period, mid-level wines a bit shorter than that, and then the more immediately accessible wines...

Karl: Ever smell mulling spices? They're broad and earthy, but still defined. For me mulled fruit is just that - not as vivacious as freshly picked fruit, but not cooked or stewed, which would be a perjorative description for me. The fruit has a broader, softer, fleshier feel, but still stays defined and complex.

Thanks as always for the questions and for reading along...
Johnny Espinoza Esquivel
Wine World —  December 16, 2010 1:03pm ET
It's so amazing to see Christian Moueix doing pruning. He really takes care of the vineyards. I see passion and compromise with quality. There is just not name/fame but the cares behind what really matters.

James, Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful experience with us readers!
Michael Myette
Sacramento, CA USA —  December 16, 2010 1:39pm ET
James,

I want to thank you. This comprehensive review and scoring is refreshing. I think that Bordeaux has suffered some "grade inflation" over the past few years, and as scores went up, even in the non-stellar vintages, the ability to discern between great and more mediocre wines was lost. This kind of objectivity is what I look for in WS. It appears I can again trust WS with Bordeaux.
Alexandre De Azara
SAO PAULO BRAZIL —  December 19, 2010 4:00am ET
James. Excellent answer about your drink rec!
I'm a fan of your ratings. And didn't know exactly what to expect when you replaced james on bordeaux tasting. Now I know: proficiency and excelence! Great job so far, and the bar was very high! Thanks a lot.
Dave Savona
New York, NY —  December 22, 2010 5:13pm ET
Great video. Very informative.

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