The wines of Pomerol: 'Bordeaux's afterthought'
Notes on a grand tasting at Roberson, presented by Neal Martin

Roberson Fine Wine, November 2010

‘Pomerol is the afterthought in Bordeaux,’ says Neal Martin, who was compering this tasting. ‘It hasn’t had much written about it before, which is why I decided to write a book on it.’  Neal’s magnum opus isn’t published yet: he’s still finishing it off. But it sounds like it will be a huge door wedge of a book, full of anecdote and history.

The appellation, on Bordeaux’s right bank, has just 780 hectares of vines, which is tiny: the same size as St Julien. To the north is the Barbanne river; to the east/southeast St Emilion; and to the west Libourne. The town of Libourne has actually used up a lot of the really good terroir of Pomerol.

The history of Pomerol is vague. Unlike that of the well documented left bank, Pomerol’s history is full of gaps. There is evidence of Roman settlement, yet no trace of Roman vines. Viticulture here started in the 11th/12th centuries.

Through history, Pomerol has consisted largely of small properties, usually practising polyculture, which were then made even smaller by inheritance. It stayed this way until the 19th century, when bigger estates emerged through the practice of sharecropping. These included the likes of Sertan (now Vieux Chateau Certan) and Gazin.

It was only towards the beginning of the 20th century that crops such as cereals and maize were phased out. In this respect, Pomerol was effectively 150 years behind the left bank.

Indeed, Pomerol wasn’t really taken seriously as a region until the 1950s, when the owner of Petrus, Mme Loubat, started charging more for her wines. The Moueix family, who were negociants, acquired the rights to sell Petrus, and had the business acumen to establish a reputation for the region. Jean-Pierre Moueix was a brilliant businessman, and Neal comments that the Mouiex family could now have even more properties in the region if it weren’t for the bad decisions made by some of the other family members. For example, Vieux Chateau Certan should be a Mouiex property: Anton Moueix had the option to buy either this or another property in the 1920s, but chose the less prestigious other property simply because it was nearer the station.  

Neal also points out that to this day there are many tiny properties in the region, as small as 0.1 hectares. Altogether there are 160–170 producers in the region, and he speculates that there could be good wines waiting to be discovered.

‘The deceiving thing about Pomerol,’ says Neal, ‘is that most wines reach their maturity earlier than those from the left bank, and you think you have to drink them up. But they then go on to evolve into something else, giving you something that rewards cellaring.’

Pomerol is dominated by Merlot, which is supplemented by Cabernet Franc and sometimes a dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon. The soils are largely clay, with varying proportions of gravel—hence the focus on Merlot. Only a little Cabernet Franc is needed to make quite a difference to the blend, because it acts like a seasoning. Many growers are currently quite keen to increase the amount of Cabernet Franc in the blend.

We tasted a range of wines, with some lovely mature examples. Quality was a bit all over the place, and the scourge of bottle variation for the older wines was apparent, which is why in some of the notes I’ve referred to the second bottle of this two-bottle tasting.


Château Trotanoy 1999 Pomerol
A Moueix property since the 1950s. Ripe, sweet, smooth nose is rich with some minerally, gravelly notes. Brooding with some seriousness. The palate shows mineral, savoury structure with good acidity and some firmness. Quite structured but with attractive dark fruits. Nicely weighted, if a little square and savoury at the moment. Not at all lush or showy. 92/100

Château Clinet 1990 Pomerol
Expressive, sweet open nose with hints of spice, leather, herbs and tea. Autumnal. The palate is evolved and quite approachable with notes of herbs, earth and cedar, as well as sweet tea. Mature now, with some fine-grained tannins and a meaty, Bovril edge. 93/100

Château La Grave à Pomerol 1988 Pomerol
Distinctive, firm, savoury nose with coffee grounds and a bit of earthy beetroot. The palate is quite firm with a pronounced savoury, earthy character. Tannic, medicinal and joyless. 84/100

Second bottle: Much better, with some nice structure, a bit of earth, and cherry and plum fruit. Expressive, with fruit to counter the firm tannins. 90/100

Château Eglise Clinet 1978 Pomerol
Iodine, mineral, earthy nose is savoury. The palate has a dry, earthy, mineral character with drying tannins and some faded cherry fruit. Still has hints of elegance. 86/100

Second bottle: Has some nice fruit with hints of Bovril and less of the earthy character. Some generosity here: expressive and elegant. 91/100

Château La Conseillante 1998 Pomerol
Some sweet fruit on the nose: red cherry and plum, with warm spicy notes too. The palate is mid-weight and elegant, with subtly grainy, chalky tannins under the nicely textured red fruits. Focused, structured and elegant with real precision. 95/100

Vieux Château Certan 1996 Pomerol
Sweet cherry and plum fruit to the nose with subtle tar, gravel and cedar notes. The palate combines some ripe dark fruit with spicy, herby, slightly animal, meaty notes, together with firm tannins. Nice richness, but also what seems to be Brettanomyces. It’s drying out a bit and finishes short. 92/100

Château Gazin 1995 Pomerol
Very nice aromatics: sweet, spicy and mineral with some herbs and tar, as well as a hint of coffee. The palate has robust, spicy, herby, gravelly depth with attractive berry fruits. Nicely mineral in a savoury style, with some firm tannins. 93/100

Château Evangile 1995 Pomerol
Distinctive savoury nose with a dark, meaty, rubbery edge to it. The palate is dense and firm with lots of tannin. Drying, dense and plummy with an angular character. Not much fun, really. 87/100

Château Lafleur 1995 Pomerol
Expressive and quite elegant with subtle chalk notes, cherry fruit and some spicy earthiness. Dense palate is quite tannic but also has good fruit. So elegant in style with fine, grainy tannins and lovely purity. Delicious. 95/100

Château Pétrus 1952 Pomerol
Complex, earthy, spicy nose is firm and dense with notes of fudge and tar, as well as a bit of sweetness. The palate is evolved but still has some freshness: long, rich and spicy with great length and warm, complex fudge, earth and spice notes. The second bottle opened is a bit meatier, with dense spicy notes and more purity and elegance on the palate. It has a bit more fruit. Expressive and delicious, this wine has appealing complexity. Composite score of both bottles: 95/100

See also: Photos from Pomerol

Wines tasted 11/10  
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