So why does a bottle of Petrus cost thousands of euros?

Historic branding and unique terroir gives this wine unique qualities and taste

A wine bottle that’s worth thousands of euros? Surely Yorgen Fenech’s been had.

Or maybe not: there’s gold in them Petrus bottle after all.

One question non-wine drinkers might be asking is why a fabled French wine like Petrus costs thousands, and would you even simply enjoy sipping the euros by the drop?

The Petrus estate lies in the Pomerol region, within the so-called “Right Bank” Bordeaux region. For a long time, this was a “second choice” area in Bordeaux, where wines from Pomerol used to be cheaper than those produced elsewhere in Bordeaux, such as in Médoc.

An answer to the Petrus question comes from wine experts’ and pricing website Vivino, which explains the journey of Petrus to the top tier of wines. After Madame Loubat became the owner of the cellar, she committed winemaking and distribution to Jean-Pierre Moueix in the 1940s in a bid to have Petrus match wines from Médoc in price.

But a big branding push came after WWII, when the wine stated being exported to the UK and the USA. When in the 1960s, President John Kennedy said that Petrus was his favourite wine, the label became a status symbol among well-off Americans. And the price rose again.

The explosion of Petrus, observes thewinecellarinsider.com, came with American wine critic Robert Parker’s ceaseless praise and high scores catapulting Pomerol into the world spotlight.

“From that point forward, the entire Pomerol appellation started producing wines worthy of its terroir, with prices to match. Until 1982, while Petrus was not cheap, it was not that much money when compared to the other top wines of Bordeaux. It sold for about the same price as the First Growths in those days. If you go back just a bit further to the 1970s, Petrus sold for less than the First Growths. And if you really want to take a look back to the middle of the 19th century, the vineyards of Petrus were not even thought of as being worthy of making great wine! It was considered a luncheon claret, not fit for the dinner table!”

However, Petrus has also benefited from improved wine-making techniques. In 2008, the 33-year-old Olivier Berrouet replaced his father as the wine maker for Petrus and started producing a fuller, fresher and more lush wine with higher alcohol levels. Then in 2014, the wine started only being sold to a select group of wine merchants. Two years later, Petrus sold a 20% share in its vineyard for €200 million to a Colombian investor, Alejandro Santo Domingo, a major shareholder in the Anheuser-Busch beer producer.

The 11.5 hectare Petrus vineyard is situated at the top of the highest elevation on the Pomerol plateau, offering natural drainage. The vineyards benefit from a soil and terroir unique to the estate, which also enjoy a clay does clay that does not exist in any other wine producing region in the world.

What makes this terroir so unique is that the subsoil is packed with very dense, deep, dark blue clay. “The clay is so hard, that the roots cannot penetrate. What happens is the vines quickly grow sideways to find nutrition as the vines do not go deeper than 60 to 80cm… When this type of clay absorbs water, it becomes impermeable… When the dry summer months arrive, the vines are still able to feed on the much needed moisture. The blue clay of Petrus creates grapes with the highest level of tannins in Pomerol and for most of Bordeaux, while at the same time, creates tannins that are also among the softest in texture,” says thewinecellarinsider.com.

Then comes the prices. Writer and wine connoisseur Jay McInerney writes in the Wall Street Journal about a visit to the Bridgehampton Wine Company in New York, a private club that won an auction bid at Acker Merrall & Condit in December 2011 on a vertical of Petrus, with 57 vintages, including the legendary 1945 vintage, sold for HKD1,952,000 (equivalent to €1,870,00), an average of €3,200 per bottle. The tasting took place in June 2012 and was overseen by renowned taster and critic, James Suckling, who previously rated some Petrus vintages 100/100, including the 1989 and 1990.

 “The result of the tasting was clear: Petrus is a great wine of exceptional longevity, with recent vintages showing enormous potential. However, the difference between vintages can be massive and some years may therefore be disappointing. Petrus is undeniably one of the best red wines in the world, a true wine icon. But other Pomerol areas deserve more recognition, with La Conseillante, Latour à Pomerol and L’Evangile sometimes managing to surpass Petrus.”

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