Pomerol is a tiny village on the Right Bank of Bordeaux, with less than three square miles of area, and a population of less than 1,000. This miniscule area’s wines define the Merlot grape at its very best. While good varietal Merlot exists in California and a host of other places, and St-Émilion’s Merlot-based wines are undeniably stellar, it is Pomerol that brings the grape to its maximum of elegance, richness, and complexity.
Pétrus is considered the greatest château in Pomerol, making a soft but complex wine from almost 100% Merlot. There are many competitors, but Pétrus has remained on top. All the wines, however, command high prices, even more so than the Cabernet-based wines of the Left Bank. They have carved out their own niche in Bordeaux and differentiated themselves entirely from all potential competitors.
Pomerol’s legendary status in the wine world, and its status as a symbol of wealth and success in the world in general, is even more impressive considering the fact that the area’s history is relatively short. Up until the 1700s, Graves dominated the wine market, and even after the Médocwas excavated and became popular Pomerol was still a relatively obscure area. Grapes were consistently being planted in Pomerol, but it simply didn’t attract the international attention that its competitors did.
In the early 1900s, it began to emerge that Merlot was extremely successful in Pomerol, and the bland white wines which had up until then dominated the market for Pomerol, became less popular. Rapidly, châteaux such as Pétrus made a name for themselves. But it wasn’t until after WWII that Pétrus began to be considered one of the world’s top red wines. The French government apparently never found the area worthy of classification, which is remarkable considering the fact that it is now just as famous, or perhaps more so, than the carefully classified growths of the Médoc. Nowadays, growers in Pomerol no longer want a classification.
Climate and Viticulture
Much less maritime influence and the different nature of the Dordogne, versus the Garonne, river, helps to differentiate Pomerol’s wine from that of the Left Bank. Is the Pomerol climate more exclusive? Not necessarily.
The main influence, in reality, is the clay soil that is in Pomerol. On Pétrus’s vineyards, the clay is possibly the most concentrated of anywhere in Bordeaux. Gravel also plays some part, but is nowhere near as prominent as on the other side of the rivers.
Cabernet Sauvignon does not thrive in Pomerol due to the fact that the area likes the gravel-based soil that Cab thrives in. No white grapes are of any significance there, either. And producers seem less inclined to blending than on the Left Bank. So only two grapes are of crucial importance in Pomerol.
- Merlot: There is no doubting that Merlot is at its best in the world in Pomerol. Californian varietal Merlot can often be dull, and even when excellent it rarely reaches the complexity found by Merlot in the clay soil of Pomerol. Clay is indeed the factor that makes Merlot so good in Pomerol. The Merlots of Pomerol sometimes have a noticeable mineral tinge, but mostly are concentrated around a core of powerful but elegant richness. Flavors range from earthy and spicy to completely exotic, displaying a diversity rare for the grape. What’s more, they can age for far longer than most Merlots, sometimes lasting 30 years or more.
- Cabernet Franc: Powerful but refined, Cab Franc plays a minor, secondary part in Pomerol. Usually it makes up less than 5% of a blend, but most châteaux have some plantings of the grape.
There are relatively few Pomerol estates, so most of them are quite good, and very few offer extremely affordable prices. Indeed, paying $50 for a Pomerol is towards the bargain level, whereas on the Left Bank such a price tag would be midlevel. Although the lack of a classification has its negatives as well as positives, quality is strictly controlled by the AOC regulations.
It is tempting to compile a tiered list of Pomerol’s best wines. Time after time, classifications have been suggested, but they have been voted down for whatever reason by the châteaux in question. Since a long history of stellar wines and no classification evidences the fact that Pomerol wines do not need classification, we have simply compiled a list of the most reputable Pomerols; thrown in with them are a few well-priced “bargains”. Let your own palate be the judge!
- Château Beauregard: Bottles of this wine can be had for between $35 and $75. While they would hardly be bargains anywhere else, these prices are better than the majority of consistent Pomerols. The flavors are earthy in nature, and about a third Cabernet Franc is used. Smooth but high in tannins, they are complex enough to justify their price by any standards.
- Château Bonalgue: Although not widely available, these wines are often very affordable when they are. Good ratings easily justify the cost, which is $50 or less.
- Château Le Bon Pasteur: A solid, historic estate whose wines can be picked out by the red Maltese cross on their labels. Earthy, oaky flavors combine into a smooth taste which nevertheless needs aging to soften and even the high tannins. The style is fairly classic, but displays some modern aspects. This château is known for its solidity and reliability; prices are usually around $100 and exceed that mark only in great years.
- Château Certan de May: Earthy, exotic, yet classic Pomerol flavors characterize this estate. While Certan de May is not often available in every vintage, for fans of its taste that can only add to the intrigue. Rich in flavor and well-balanced, it’s an approachable Pomerol for aging or immediate drinking. This château’s consistency makes low-priced wines from “bad” years good buys.
- Château Clinet: Classic but not overly traditional, Clinet wine displays the typical exotic, earthy, rich flavors of a Merlot-based Pomerol while bringing to the table quite a fruit-bomb nature. Known for its early approachability and standout nature in good vintages, Clinet is tending to cost closer to $200 than $100 nowadays.
- Château La Conseillante: Since it is near to St-Émilion, La Conseillante occupies a more velvety-tannin, luscious, sweet-and-silky style rather than the typical richness and earthiness of traditional Pomerol. Once again, it displays versatility; immediate drinking is tempting, but aging might reveal even more complexity in its layers. All in all, this is one of the leaders of Pomerol. Prices reflect that fact, with vintages such as the 2005 and 2000 often exceeding $250.
- Château La Croix de Gay: One of the most reasonably priced wines in Pomerol, La Croix de Gay has smooth, classic Pomerol flavors that don’t add up to outstanding complexity or rich full-bodiedness, but nonetheless show off the flavors of the appellation without slacking off on production values. Prices have come down recently and can be as low as $20.
- Château L’Eglise Clinet: A tiny estate near La Conseillante, this château has long produced consistently good Pomerols that differentiate themselves with silky, more St-Émilion-like flavors. Earthy, elegant, sweet and classy, this wine regularly captures the essence of Pomerol. It is one of the more approachable Pomerols at a young age. Usually this château is $150 and up, but rave reviews for the 2005 have driven it to a lofty $900.
- Château L’Evangile: A powerful, modern Pomerol that nonetheless has classic concentration and elegance. While powerful in nature, it is refined and elegant enough to make early drinking a possibility. Full-bodiedness is one of this wine’s constants. Prices are usually about $150.
- Château La Fleur-Petrus: This wine can be outstanding and often is priced quite competitively. Do not confuse it with Lafleur or Pétrus, however! A classically made, sweetish Pomerol with unintimidating tannins, it has earthy aromas. It is soft but concentrated. The estate is reliable and prices are not too crazy, bottoming out at $80.
- Château Le Gay: Since the early 2000s, Le Gay has improved its quality and concentration to make competitive Pomerols. Sweet, with unusual flavors that nonetheless stick to the trend of earthy and occasionally exotic, the wine is also approachable. Less acclaimed vintages can cost as little as $75.
- Château Gazin: Concentrated and classic, Gazin goes from solid off vintages to stellar offerings such as the 2005, and somehow always manages to keep the prices below $100. As Pomerol should be, they are both approachable early and ageable.
- Château Hosanna: Recognize this wine by its distinctive royal blue label surrounded by simply printed text. It’s known for a somewhat feminine style that shows tremendous balance as one of its production values. Nevertheless, in some vintages the wine can be unobtrusively powerful. Earthy, coffee-tinted wines, they often cost less than $150 but the acclaimed 2005 is closer to $300.
- Clos l’Eglise: Very classic, traditional Pomerol, although it lacks the concentration sometimes found in the leaders of the appellation. Has improved since the 1990s, now remarkable both for its price ($90 to $160) and for its rising quality.
- Château Lafleur: While classification is something we intend to avoid, Lafleur’s prices, ratings, and pedigree all make it a wine that, with its greatest vintages, can indeed rival or surpass the #1, Pétrus. Since the 1940s, Lafleur has produced leading Pomerol; its history may be longer and more impressive than that of Pétrus. A stunningly long finish, great richness, silky but potent tannins, and world-class concentration are the hallmarks of Lafleur. But a high Cabernet Franc percentage means that unlike some other great Pomerols, the wine is not always approachable at first and can require decades of aging. Prices are close to Pétrus, often $2,000+ new.
- Château Lagrange: Not to be confused with the estate of the same name in St-Julien, Médoc, this Pomerol is a very solid, if not overly exciting, classic producer. It has a good reputation for being well-rounded, traditional, and balanced, if lacking the concentration of higher-priced wines. Prices are under $100, sometimes as low as $60.
- Château Latour a Pomerol: Beware that this wine does not offer the approachability that some Pomerols do. On the contrary, it needs long aging to show sweet, silky flavors. It has more Médoc-like flavors and power, but nonetheless has typical Merlot elegance and concentration. The main selling point is the price, which ranges between $40 and $80.
- Château Moulinet: Sweet, rich, and feminine, Moulinet is indeed a classic Pomerol that has great prices. The best deal is the $40 2005, one of the best Pomerols for this vintage and price point.
- Château Nenin: A mineral edge characterizes this wine, which is more consistent than a standout. Always classical, Nenin’s wines are well-priced at under $100, especially in less exciting vintages.
- Château Petit Village: Recognizable by the beige-colored label. Prices for this wine reach their all-time highs at $100 and can be around $50. The main objection of the critics is that it is long on power and short on elegance, but nonetheless the pedigree is high.
- Château Pétrus: There is little doubt among experts that Merlot finds its best expression in the red wines of Château Pétrus, which is among the top five wines in the world on reputation, quality, fame, and price. Although it has a long history, Pétrus’ main asset is the superiority of its entirely clay-based soil. One of the most elegant wines in the world, Pétrus’s main selling point versus Left Bank houses is the fine elegance and approachability, the sheer refinement of flavor found in the luscious wine. Seekers of greatly powerful wines will not find Pétrus to be the best in the world, but for those who love balanced and elegant mixtures that still come with a guarantee of intensity, full-bodiedness, and flavors that run the gamut, Pétrus hones this style to the maximum. Some of the more interesting flavors are exotic and earthy, like truffles and coffee. Less than 3,000 cases are produced a year, making Pétrus exclusive and usually over $1,000 new. The 2005 is around $4,000!
- Château Le Pin: Another of Pomerol’s finest estates, Le Pin is a collectible cult wine with less than 1,000 cases of annual production. Its wine is highly elegant, with some sweetness but not as much lusciousness as Pétrus. Some years are easy-drinking; others require years of cellaring before the intensity wears off. Thanks to accoutrements by almost all wine critics, and the low production, Le Pin has taken its place as some of the most expensive wine in the world. It generally costs about the same as Pétrus.
- Château La Pointe: La Pointe’s wines’ rating-to-price ratio is fairly competitive for the ostentatious Pomerol. Ideally, it should be wonderfully rich in flavor and have a good balance and concentration, but always be approachable for drinking immediate or delayed. The price, at less than $60, is also approachable.
- Clos Rene: The wines of Clos Rene are quite affordable for Pomerol, and have a generally good reputation. If you can find them, they are relatively consistent between vintages and sell for $30 to $50.
- Château Rouget: The most expensive bottles of new Château Rouget rarely exceed the $65 2000 in price; indeed, Rouget is one of the more affordable Pomerols. While powerful with earthy, spicy, exotic flavors, the wines become more balanced and elegant with time. They usually cost $60 or more.
- Château de Sales: This is the least costly well-pedigreed wine that is generally available from Pomerol, often selling for $25 or less.
- Château Trotanoy: A tiny estate, Trotanoy has a limited production and a very high reputation—both trademarks of cult wine. Yet its flavors are much too classic and elegant to occupy that niche. Despite this, the wine can occasionally be unpleasant in its youth, making for better drinking after a good amount of aging. The high reputation of the château means that wines start at $130, and can rise easily to $250 or so. But this is fairly competitive for a wine of its reputation in Pomerol.
- Château Vieux-Château-Certan: Often abbreviated as VCC, this château produces an intense, complex, unusual style of Pomerol that nonetheless is appreciated by the majority of wine critics. Cabernet Sauvignon is planted alongside Cab Franc in the vineyard, with only 60% of plantings made up of Merlot. This makes for wine of an intensity and concentration of berry flavors more reminiscent of a top Médoc than of Pomerol. The wine’s reputation is consistent enough so that price differences are not huge, going from $125 for the 2004 to $200 for the 2005…a much smaller difference than typical for the appellation.
No important subregions here. Don’t get confused with Lalande-de-Pomerol, as this is an entirely separate appellation.