Log In / Join Now

Drinking the Legend

Posted: Dec 21, 2006 5:53am ET

One phrase keeps on going round and round in my head today following an extraordinary dinner last night that featured eight vintages of Château Pétrus, the legendary Pomerol.

“It’s only wine! People forget this.”

It was something John Kolasa of Château Rauzan-Segla told me when I was in Bordeaux in September, tasting the top 1996s versus 1995s. And it seems to make sense even more after last night’s Pétrus dinner.

I don’t have to go on and on about how incredibly expensive Pétrus is now. It’s mind-boggling. It even makes me a little nervous when I think about it. For example, I checked out Wine Searcher and the 2000 Pétrus can be had for $5,200 a bottle from Park Avenue Liquor in New York City. The 1961 that we had for dinner last night was $9,900 from the same place. We had a magnum and that price is for a bottle.

But you can’t forget: Pétrus is wine. It not art. It’s not antique. It’s not jewelry. Or anything else but a bottle of wine. Yes, the prices make no sense for most of us. But it is wine and it’s made for drinking. And Pétrus is an incredible bottle of wine. It can be real nectar.

Last night I was lucky enough to drink these vintages: 1998, 1975, 1971, 1970, 1966, 1961, 1949, and 1921. And they were glorious. I think Pétrus was at its peak in the 1960s and made super wines in 1961, 1962, 1964, 1966, and 1967. And then came 1970, 1971, and 1975, which were fab as well. The 1940s were also superb with 1945, 1947, 1948, and 1949 being great.

Here are my notes from this non-blind Pétrus tasting during dinner at the new Jean-Pierre Restaurant in Hong Kong:

1998: A little subdued at first but showing chocolate, spice, tobacco, brown sugar and fruit aromas that follow through to a full body, with velvety tannins and a long finish. After two hours, it gave even more. I have given this 100 points in other tastings. Today only 98…only 98. Best after 2015. Wine merchant Thomas Bohrer brought this. And I think it is better than the 2000 and perhaps the 2005.

1975: This came from a magnum and from the impeccable cellar of Henry Tang. It is one of the best 1975 Pétrus I have ever had. It showed fabulous aromas of blackberries, mint, with undertones of black olives. It was full and velvety textured yet refined and long with a subtle fruity, brown sugar aftertaste. Delicious. Still has a long life ahead of it. 97 points.

1971: I have always preferred this to the 1970 but last night, no. It is an elegant red with lovely chocolate, licorice and berry aromas and flavors. Full and silky, it has everything in balance. But it started to fade after about an hour in the decanter. From the cellar of Peter Lam. Needs drinking. 92 points.

1970: This wine just got better and better. A perfect bottle and from the cellar of Leo Kung. It showed raisin, spice, chocolate and mint aromas with loads of cherries and blackberry. This is very, very ripe and almost seamless in structure. Full bodied, with velvety tannins and a long, long finish. Fantastic. Loads of life ahead of it. 95 points.

1966: This needs decanting at least 1-½ hours before serving. Alex Wong brought to the dinner. I think on the Pétrus radar, it has been forgotten a bit. But what a wine. It shows masses of coffee bean, chocolate, berry and light mint aromas and flavors. It is full-bodied and very, very intense on the palate. Long and caressing. A beautiful old wine. 97 points.

1961: The magnum from Alex Wong lived up to its 100-point, legendary reputation. What a wine. It had an out-of-this-world aroma of roses, berries, chocolate, leather and blackberry. Okay. I was so spellbound I ran out of descriptors. The palate was full bodied with ultra rich, velvety tannins and a finish that lasted for minutes. As it opened up with time in the glass, it seemed to get bigger and bigger and bigger on the palate. Amazing nectar here. 100 points.

1949: A magnum from the cellar of Peter Lam this wine was very, very ripe with a sweet jam, tobacco, raisin, and tea character. It was full and silky but the finish was slightly acidic, almost citric in nature. Perfect bottle? 93 points.

1921: This was also in magnum and from Alex Wong again. It was like Port. Aromas of roses, berries and chocolate, it was full-bodied, with a cherry, cedar, and cream character. It was a little heady, even edgy, with a pronounced acidity. But this is a beautiful old bottle. And a very, very rare magnum. 95 points.

We also drank a bottle of 1979 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet and a 1978 Ramonet Montrachet. I know that everyone thinks the 1978 is superior but the DRC 1979 was better than the Ramonet in my opinion. It had more fruit, richness and length. 94 points compared to 91 for the Ramonet, which never opened up.

What a night. It will last in my mind for years to come. Pétrus is an amazing wine indeed. Some people think it is just for label drinkers or people with too much money. I am just sorry that more people can’t afford it or have the opportunity to drink it.

It is a legend in its own right, and, yes, it is only a bottle of wine … one hell of a bottle.
Robert Caruana Jr
East Islip, NY —  December 21, 2006 10:22am ET
James - What an amazing tasting! I must admit that I'm quite jealous - I've never tasted Petrus and will most likely be one of those people you mention that will never have the opportunity to drink it (although I hope I'm wrong!). Also, please keep these amazing blogs coming. I thoroughly enjoy reading about your escapades throughout the world and living the high life vicariously through you!

Regarding the topic of fakes - I have a suggestion. Is it possible for Wine Spectator to make a section on the website for couterfeits; much like the counterfeit section on Cigar Aficianado? It would be great to show examples of fake labels, corks and bottles next to the real ones and descriptions of why they are fake. I think it would be an excellent addition to the website. Any thoughts on this?
Brian Orcutt
New York, NY —  December 21, 2006 12:26pm ET
James - Really enjoy your posts. Do you think the mag of 1921 Petrus was real? Did it resemble the other vintages you have had?
John W Graham Iii
Richmond VA —  December 21, 2006 1:29pm ET
What a great read for me, and certainly your pedigree aside, a great experience for you as well. Like Robert, I have yet to taste a Petrus. A local wine store here in Richmond has a 1999 for $1300 and that just cannot be justified no matter how I slice it.Cheers to one hell of a bottle!
Edoardo Fioravanti
Florence\ Italy —  December 21, 2006 3:51pm ET
I was amazed just by reading what you wrote, can't even imagine to be there while drinking those legends!
James Suckling
 —  December 21, 2006 5:39pm ET
Robert: Good idea on the fake section. I am going to speak to Marvin. Brain: The bottle was perfect and the wine resembled older vintages such as the 1947 and 1945 which I have had.

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.