Opulent, purchase glamorous, intense, monumental, unique, and legendary are some of the adjectives routinely attached to its pennant. So what makes this wine so good?
Many argue Petrus maintains its dominance due to great wine making. Under the tutelage of Christian Moueix, owner of Petrus, the wines are raised with the utmost care and attention. Some argue that the wine is made in the vineyard, with the careful discipline of Oenologist Jean-Claude Berrouet who has managed the vines since 1964. But Moueix and Berrouet also manage or own all the wineries directly surrounding Petrus – Trotanoy, La Fleur-Petrus, Hosanna and La Grave (among others). None of the other Moueix properties achieve the same level of flavor, or price, as Petrus.
The distinguishing feature of Petrus, many French argue, is its soil. Sitting within the tiny commune of Pomerol, a drab village given over completely to the monoculture landscape of vineyards, Petrus looks no different than its neighbors. But below ground it is completely different. While vineyards in Pomerol sit on clay soils tending towards sand near Saint Emilion, Petrus sits right on top of an extremely iron rich substratum nicknamed crasse de fer. It is the only property in the area to have such a soil type.
Sounds insignificant, doesn’t it?
Yet most experts agree that this slice of crasse de fer is what allows the vines at Petrus to harvest their depths of flavor. And hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of Petrus are bought, sold, commented upon, resold as an investment and sometimes even pleasurably drunk simply based on this pride of place.
So if the great Petrus comes down to a slice of iron in the soil why can’t it be duplicated?
An exact copy of Petrus may not be possible, but certainly French Pomerol doesn’t have a monopoly on great terroir. In fact, in Washington State exists a vineyard worth examining – the Stillwater Vineyard within the Wahluke slope.
Note the similarities: Wahluke is a beautiful stretch of plateau running alongside the Columbia River; much like La Barbanne River bounds the plateau of Pomerol. The Stillwater Vineyard is one of the highest in its appellation, just like Petrus. The vineyard is a clay basalt mixture with the same type of extremely rich iron substratum as Petrus. I submit that the conditions are perfect for making extraordinary wine. And one winemaking team, Helix, is making just such a wine from the Stillwater Vineyard. And just like Petrus, Helix’s Stillwater is made from 100% Merlot.
And here is the stumbling block – this wine is Merlot.
In the US there is an irrational fear of Merlot, unless it is French. For some reason, and I suspect it’s due to the marketing behind fancy French labels, French Merlot still gets a fashion pass back to a pre-Sideways world. And that is unfortunate because a lot of amazing American Merlot, which most tasters cannot distinguish from Cabernet, is getting flushed down the toilet in favor of exceptionally expensive French wine from unpronounceable places.
So let’s fall in love all over again and drink one of the world’s greatest wines – Helix Stillwater Merlot.
Great Merlot, from Washington or from France, has a power to convey ripeness and density to a profound level beyond any other grape. Here black cherry, currant liqueur and espresso notes seamlessly meld with floral notes and a cassis lift. The palate is pure and intense, broad casting the mineral intensity of the Stillwater vineyard’s iron backbone. This is not sloppy, syrupy Merlot of the hating kind. It’s strong-willed with cocoa tannins and a finish as dramatic as any Cabernet. Its finish layers into the purity of dense minerality that Merlot can so dramatically convey.
No, Helix Stillwater Merlot isn’t Petrus. But as Christian Mouiex recently noted, “Petrus was little known 50 years ago”. Every great wine starts somewhere, sometimes on iron fissure topped by clay, sometimes in America by a couple of adventurous winemakers. Helix Stillwater Merlot is unknown now, but it could be tomorrow’s Petrus. You’ll never know unless you try it!
2005 Helix Stillwater Vineyard Merlot
Suggested List Price: $25.99
Special price via this email: $14.99
We will be tasting this wine Friday and Saturday.
All orders must be secured with a name, credit card number, and phone number. All orders will be available at the time of purchase. Half case (5%) and full case discounts (10%) do apply to this special offer.
When the wine is ordered your credit card will be charged. The wine will be held in climate controlled conditions until you are ready to pick it up, free of charge. Offer is good while supplies last.