What Makes Pomerol Wines Special?

The immense success of Petrus and other top wineries of Pomerol brought fame to this Bordeaux wine region.

The wines of Pomerol are some of the most famous and valued in Bordeaux, in France, and the world, and the high prices reflect the interest in these wines.  For example, the 2015 and the 2016 vintages of Petrus can command retail prices of over $3,000 per bottle. You may expect to pay even more for older exceptional vintages.

What is Pomerol and what makes the wines from this small commune in Gironde so special?

Pomerol is northeast of Bordeaux, on the right bank of the Dordogne river, between the towns of Libourne and the Pomerol’s famous neighbor, Saint-Emilion.  It takes about 40 minutes to reach Pomerol by car from Bordeaux and only about 10 minutes from the village of Saint-Emilion.

Today, Pomerol isn’t a real village – just a few houses and a church.  It is a winegrowing community with houses and chateaux scattered through vineyards.

The earliest mentions of vines in the region go back to Roman times (4th century AD).

The is a lot of evidence of winegrowing around Pomerol from the 12th century. From then, and until the French revolution, grapes were grown on the lands belonging to the Commandery of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, Rhodes, and Malta, one of the oldest knight orders in France.

Many Pomerol chateaux still use the eight-pointed Maltese cross on their labels today in memory of the Order.

During the Middle Ages, Pomerol was a stopover of one of the pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.  There were churches, houses, and hospitals built for the pilgrims.

There is no unity as to the origin of the name.

According to one of the theories, Pomerol comes from poma, a Latin word for fruit with pips, meaning grapes.

Others say that the name comes from the French word pomme (apple) after apple orchards common in that area before the vines took over in the 18th-19th centuries. 

Pomerol AOC

Pomerol appellation of protected origin AOC was created in 1936. It is one of the smallest in Bordeaux, only 3 by 4 kilometers with approximately 800 hectares of vineyards.  

Pomerol is home to 140 wineries.  Most are small wineries with vineyards of less than 10 hectares.

Different from other Bordeaux wine regions, there is no official classification of wineries in Pomerol.  Therefore, the label would not tell much about the relative quality of the wine, however, the price may.

Terroir of Pomerol

Pomerol winery
The appellation is part of the plateau that slopes down to the Isle river, which flows into the Dordogne.  To the north, the appellation is bordered by a stream called the Barbanne.  The microclimate of Pomerol is influenced by the rivers. 

The lands feature unique geological characteristics.  The terroir consists of gravel and sandy topsoil with a subsoil of swelling clay, sometimes with iron oxide – the famous blue clay soils.  The dense clay soils retain water, which means the plants have a regular supply of water and nutrients.

The spots of blue clay are scattered around Pomerol and Saint-Emilion. The concentration of blue clay soils is found in the northeast corner of Pomerol, under the vineyards of Petrus, Vieux Chateau Certan, and Chateau L’Evangile.

What Type of Wine is Made in Pomerol?

Merlot is king in Pomerol.  The Merlot variety accounts for approximately 80% of all vines in the appellation.

Prior to the mid 18th century, Merlot was not as spread in the area.  In fact, the land was focusing on white wines in the past. Before mass plantings of Merlot, Pomerol wasn’t strictly a wine-making region.  It also produced linen, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Today, these types of agriculture can no longer be seen in Pomerol.  The lands are quite valuable and therefore, are all devoted to viticulture.  The price of land in Pomerol reaches a few million euros per hectare.

The clay soils of Pomerol are the best suited for Merlot.

Merlots would generally ripen earlier than other grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon. There are risks of Merlot becoming overripe and wines too alcoholic in years with hot summer months.  However, in Pomerol thanks to the cool clay soils, the Merlot wines display freshness, finesse and complexity, and avoid jammy, overripe flavours, and high degrees of alcohol as some Merlots grown in warmer gravel soils would display.  

“Round”, “velvety” and “powerful” commonly describe the wines of Pomerol.

Other grape varieties grown in Pomerol are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec.

Why Are the Pomerol Wines Expensive?

Not all Pomerol wines command skyrocket prices. Some are quite affordable.  As Pomerol wineries are not ranked, the fame of Petrus and a few others help small producers to market the wines and pull prices higher, however, many good wine are sold under $30 per bottle.

The explanation of prices on the most prestigious bottles lies in a few factors. 

  1. The terroir is unique. The blue clay is a rare type of soil believed to be formed 40-million-years ago.  It is the terroir that creates wines of ultimate finesse.
  2. There are no cooperatives and all wines are made by the growing estates.  Most do all vineyard work by hand and go through a rigoros selection process. For example, Petrus does not use any grapes that are not of the highest quality. They only produce one top-quality wine, while the rest of the grapes are sold in bulk.
  3.  The wines are of exceptional quality, however, a lot of the value lies in the brand and reputation of the top wineries of Pomerol.
  4. The brand value and the prestige impact the prices for Pomerol’s tiny production. Pomerol became famous in the 20th century.  In 1947, the bottles were served at the banquet to celebrate the marriage of Queen Elisabeth II.  In the 1960s, when President John Kennedy said that Petrus was his favorite wine, the label became a status symbol in the US.
  5. The critics’ attention.  In the 1980s, Robert Parker gave 100 points to Petrus. It is when the prices of all wines from the region increased.

What Are the Best Wineries in Pomerol?

Although there is no classification of wineries in Pomerol, wine critics and wine lovers mention these as the wineries as the top of Pomerol: 

  • Petrus

  • Château Le Pin

  • Château L’Évangile

  • Château Certan de May

  • Château Clinet

  • Château La Conseillante

  • Château Clos l’Église

  • Château La Fleur-de-Gay

  • Château Gazin

  • Château La Fleur-Pétrus

  • Château Lafleur

  • Château Latour à Pomerol 

  • Château Trotanoy

  • Vieux Château Certan 
  • Château Séraphine

  • Château Beauregard

  • Château Bon-Pasteur

  • Château Hosanna

  • Clos du Clocher

  • Château la Croix-de-Gay

  • Château l’Enclos

  • Château le Gay

  • Château La Grave-à-Pomerol

  • Château Lagrange

  • Château Nenin

  • Château La Pointe

  • Château Clos-René.

These Pomerol wines were given 100 points by Robert Parker:

Chateau L’Eglise-Clinet, Pomerol, France

1955, 1921, 1947

Chateau L’Evangile, Pomerol, France

1961, 2009

Chateau Lafleur, Pomerol, France

2005, 1947, 2000, 1950, 2015, 1945

Chateau Latour a Pomerol, Pomerol, France

1947, 1961

Le Pin, Pomerol, France

2009

Petrus, Pomerol, France

2009, 1990, 2015, 1989, 1921, 2016, 2000, 1929

Vieux Chateau Certan, Pomerol, France

2016

What Are the Best Vintages in Pomerol?

ExtraordinaryOutstandingAbove Average to Excellent
201620172013
201520142011
200920122007
200820102004
199820062003
199020052002
198920011997
20001996
19951994
1993
1992
1988
1987
1986

The Wine Advocate Vintage Guide, 1970 – 2019

Where to Buy Pomerol Wines?

Of course, Pomerol wines can be ordered directly from the local wineries, however many to chateaux, Petrus included, only sell wines through wine merchants that distribute to local shops and export.

If you plan to visit Bordeaux and buy wines here, my article Where to Buy Wine in Bordeaux? Get Local Advice could be helpful.

To order Pomerol wines in the United States, check out the website of Bordeaux merchant in NYC, Millesima.  

I found good deals on select fine Bordeaux wine at WineOnSale.  They offer an additional 10% off with the discount code WELCOME10.

 

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