The 2014 Bordeaux Barrels Diary: Pomerol Precision at Pétrus

Attention to detail and moderation in the cellar gave Jean-Claude and Olivier Berrouet a gorgeous 2014 Right Bank red
The 2014 Bordeaux Barrels Diary: Pomerol Precision at Pétrus
Olivier Berrouet of Château Pétrus calls the 2014 grand vin "an expression of the spirit of Bordeaux." (Jean-Paul Dussaussoy)
Apr 2, 2015

My final stop during my 2014 Bordeaux barrel tastings was at the revered Right Bank estate of Pétrus. With the recent cellar renovation done and the doughty statue of St. Peter safely ensconced somewhere else, Pétrus seems ready to embark on another generation among Pomerol's elite wines.

Following his father's footsteps, winemaker Olivier Berrouet seems increasingly comfortable here. Pétrus is just a modest 30 acres of vines set atop the blue clay bump in the middle of Pomerol, but its wine is among the most sought-after in Bordeaux, thanks in part to Berrouet's father, Jean-Claude, who took over as winemaker in 1964.

So it was with a bit of surprise when Jean-Claude himself greeted me for my visit. The legendary winemaker was looking suave and lithe, all the more impressive as he was coming off a celebration of his 73rd birthday over the weekend, at which one would have to assume that they drank some Pétrus.

"2014 is the classic category, an expression of the spirit of Bordeaux," said the younger Berrouet. "It wasn't too hot or too cold. There is a lot of tannins but with tension—not tannic or hard. And the potential is there for good aging."

His comments echoed similar sentiments given by winemakers on both the Left and Right Banks when describing the 2014s—a vintage difficult to compare to other vintages not due to lack of quality, but due to any particularly noticeable characteristic.

"It's a vintage that really was a conduit for vinification," said Jean-Claude. "It was a vintage that provided potential, but you could have pulled too much out. You needed a gentle extraction and moderate new oak."

The 2014 grand vin here saw just 50 percent new oak; the percentage can vary between 45 and 55 percent (the limit was reached in 2010).

"We did the last tipping in mid-August and then vines stopped growing, so the maturity of the fruit continued slowly and easily, especially with the Indian summer," said Olivier. "August ran about 2 degrees cooler than usual, but September was about 2 degrees warmer, so in the end, temperatures were average for the year."

"But it's not just that they averaged out," said Jean-Claude. "The difference between day and night temperature was narrow, not like California, for example, where you can have wide swings between warm days and cool nights. So the average was actually from a narrow band of temperature and therefore you didn't get a maturity blockage. The ripening continued, slowly, evenly, precisely."

The precision shows in the 2014 Pétrus Pomerol, which has a gorgeous caressing feel at first, with velvety raspberry and plum fruit. But it picks up a light briar echo and fine pebbly feel through the finish, adding range and length. There's latent grip but it's supple overall, with the tannins fully embedded in the fruit, while an alluring incense note weaves all around. It's a thoroughly beguiling wine, though I might give a split-hair lead to 2014 Le Pin, as perhaps it was better situated thanks to its gravel soils in the 2014 vintage (gravel drained better following a humid August).

As for a comparison, I threw out the '78 idea given to me by Christian Moueix, and the elder statesman in the room got a discernible twinkle in his eye at the thought.

"'78 is an interesting comparison, but there's one major difference," he said, holding up a finger gently, but for clear emphasis. "The yields. Back then they were easily [4 tons per acre] or more."

"And today the AOC maximum for Pomerol is [3.5 tons per acre], and at Pétrus in '14 it was [2.2 tons per acre]," added Olivier. 

Father and son, in lock step ...

Photograph by James Molesworth

Two generations of Pétrus winemakers: Olivier Berrouet and his father, Jean-Claude

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