Now when I think of Bordeaux, several things come immediately to mind; I think of tannic wine, made mostly from the ‘King of grapes’, Cabernet Sauvignon along with its distinctive blackcurrant, leaf and graphite aromas. I think of opulent Chateaux and I think of archaic classification systems. In the west of the Bordeaux region however, in the tiny Appellation of Pomerol, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of appellations within Bordeaux, such as the Entre-deux-Mers and the Cotes de Bordeaux that have none of these above-mentioned stereotypes- their job is to pump out millions of litres of entry-level wine to slake the global thirst for wines from this region. What is so unique about Pomerol though, is that despite none of the trappings of glory and wealth apparent in regions like in Saint-Emilion and the Left Bank, some of the wines of Pomerol are the most sought-after and expensive in the world. And they don’t use Cabernet to reach these heights either…
So what is it about Pomerol- what makes it so special? And most importantly, is the hype all it’s cracked up to be? Well one thing is for sure, if you were to visit Pomerol, you wouldn’t be too impressed by the landscape. Unlike the Left Bank, where Chateaux dot the landscape and every few kilometres one can find a tasting centre or restaurant, in Pomerol there really isn’t very much to see but row upon row of vines. The Appellation consists of only 800 hectares of vineyards, farmed by around 150 viticulturists- there’s not really much room for grandiose buildings or restaurants, in fact there isn’t even a town of Pomerol around which vineyards are planted. Pomerol is remarkable because it is so unremarkable!
If you look back at the history of the region, it’s also quite unimpressive. Whilst the Left Bank can trace its history back over a thousand years, vineyards were only intermittently established in this relatively infertile tract of land. There is evidence that Romans did have a go, however this was given up as a waste of time; the land was just too hard to establish vines on- especially Cabernet Sauvignon. After the Hundred Years War, where most of Bordeaux became a warzone as the French and English fought over it, nobody even bothered to re-build vineyards in Pomerol. It wasn’t until the late 15th century, 150 years after the end of the war that anyone bothered to come back here to grow grapes. In fact, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that there was any record of the wines of Pomerol gaining any respect. In the early 20th century the French and the Belgians started taking note that this was somewhere one could find high quality wine at a fraction of the price of wines across the Gironde. So needless to say, the famous ‘Classification of 1855’ made no mention of any wine from Pomerol, and that’s the way it has stayed ever since! CLICK MAP FOR LARGER IMAGE.
It wasn’t until the 1950s, when 2 British wine merchants, sick of squabbling over wines from the Left Bank, and seeking wines with more value to offer the wine drinkers of London hit hard by the austerity enforced during WWII. Harry Waugh and Roland Avery ‘discovered’ Pomerol- most notably via its most iconic property Chateau Petrus. After this, the popularity of Pomerol exploded, and winery names such as Chateau Lafleur, Le Pin, L’Eglise-Clinet, Latour-a-Pomerol and La Fleur de Gay graced the shelves of wine stores not only in London, but all through Europe and the USA. The minute availability and high quality of the wines convinced all these markets to ignore the lack of Classification system in the region.
There are 2 main things that give the wines of Pomerol its quality and uniqueness. The first is the soil of the region. It is made up of layers of gravel interspersed with layers of clay- but not just any clay mind you. The locals call the dark red clay crasse de fer, which is rich in iron, and unique to this appellation. To the east of the region, near the border with Saint-Emilion, there is a thick layer of this red clay just below the surface, and it is here you find the best producers such as Petrus and Le Pin. These soils are perfect for the 2nd unique aspect of these wines, the Merlot grape. The wines of Pomerol usually consist of around 80% Merlot, with the remainder Cabernet Franc and a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon- more Merlot is used here than in any other appellation. The iron-rich soil gives the Merlot a life and brightness not often seen anywhere else on earth, and makes them not only immediately approachable in their youth, but able to age for decades, making them some of the most collectible wines on earth. This unique soil and heavy reliance on one varietal is not without risk though; Merlot flowers very early in the Spring, and in years of late frost or heavy rains, the delicate flowers die off without producing any fruit. So in years like 1984 and 1991, next to no wine was made in Pomerol!
Wine Sales Manager