Icons of Pomerol: Petrus v Lafleur

These two legendary small estates are located close to each other on the Right Bank of Bordeaux, and while both produce hallowed wines, there are subtle differences between them. Our international director of Wine & Spirits, Tim Triptree MW, reveals what sets them apart — and the best vintages of each to have on your radar

The Petrus estate, located in the highest area of Pomerol, on a plateau dominated by well-drained, iron-rich clay soils

The Petrus estate, located in the highest area of Pomerol, on a plateau dominated by well-drained, iron-rich clay soils. Photo: Only France / Alamy

Petrus and Lafleur are two wine estates that are synonymous with the most rarified and desirable fine wines. Both are located in Pomerol on the Right Bank of Bordeaux, where some of the finest terroirs for producing outstanding red wines can be found, the famous clay and iron-rich soils being ideally suited to growing Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes.

Both estates are exceptionally highly regarded and have redefined the world of fine wine, with many of their vintages having achieved mythic status. Due to the small sizes of their vineyards, production volumes are a fraction of those of the First Growths from the Left Bank, and this adds to their allure — especially that of Lafleur, which typically produces fewer than half as many cases as Petrus.

Pomerol wines are largely dominated by Merlot, with varying proportions of Cabernet Franc. These wines tend to be more opulent, generous, rich, fleshy and silky-textured than most other red wines from Bordeaux, and invariably have softer tannins and slightly lower acidity than the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant reds from the Left Bank.

Aromas and flavours range between red and black fruits, depending on the warmth of the vintage. Merlot adds red and black cherry and plum fruit character, together with suppleness, softness and mid-palate fleshiness. These characteristics are complemented by Cabernet Franc’s mouthwatering acidity, raspberry perfumed notes, herbaceous aromatics, graphite, and tannic structure and vigour.

‘I have been fortunate to taste a range of mature vintages of both Petrus and Lafleur,’ says Tim Triptree MW, Christie’s international director of Wine & Spirits. ‘With bottle age, these wines develop extraordinarily complex aromatics, ranging from baked earth, savoury cured meats, fruitcake, caramel and clove to cinnamon, liquorice, sandalwood, tobacco, chocolate, coffee, roasted nut and more. The wines of these estates manage to tread a line between exoticism and finesse that makes them some of the most amazing wines I have had the pleasure of tasting.’

Triptree says that he recently tasted a ‘superb’ Petrus from 1945. ‘It had a multifaceted, complex nose of cedar and truffle, intermingled with cinnamon, exotic spices and roasted coffee beans, with a delightful meaty, savoury nuance,’ he recalls. ‘On the palate, opulent, richly flavoured wine with mouth-filling ripe black cherry and plum flavours, impressive intensity and power, and a very long, persistent finish. It is a classic.’

The cellar at Chateau Lafleur, where the annual output of wine is typically less than half that of Petrus

The cellar at Château Lafleur, where the annual output of wine is typically less than half that of Petrus. Photo: courtesy of Château Lafleur

Triptree also has a vivid recollection of tasting Lafleur 1982. ‘In a line-up of all the finest wines from that legendary vintage, it was my top wine — a stunning example, with sweet cherry and plum fruit, liquorice and exotic spices, and a lush generosity on the palate that is quintessential Pomerol.’

Although the two estates are located close to each other in the same appellation, and both ensure that the utmost care is taken to harvest the grapes at optimal maturity, there are differences between these hallowed producers. There are also certain vintages in which one has excelled and outshone its neighbour, occasionally producing Bordeaux’s ‘wine of the vintage’. Below, Triptree gives us his assessment of how the two compare.

The vineyards

Petrus has 11.4 hectares of vineyards located in the highest area of Pomerol, on a plateau dominated by well-drained, iron-rich clay soils that give the wines their structure and power.

The vineyards at Chateau Lafleur, divided equally between Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes

The vineyards at Château Lafleur, divided equally between Cabernet Franc and Merlot grapes. Photo: courtesy of Château Lafleur

Lafleur has 4.5 hectares of vineyards planted with 50 per cent Cabernet Franc (locally known as Bouchet) and 50 per cent Merlot. Also located on Pomerol’s upper plateau, close to Petrus, it has varied clay-gravel soils, helping to add complexity and structure to the wines.

The grapes

At Petrus, Merlot grapes are picked by hand at the optimal moment, which is normally relatively early. This is to ensure sufficient retention of acidity, which provides freshness, finesse and elegance to the wines.

At Lafleur, the high proportion of Cabernet Franc in the blend provides the complexity, structure and minerality, along with the lushness and silkiness from Merlot that is the wines’ signature feature.

The flavours

Petrus is extraordinarily rich, opulent and concentrated, often with ripe black cherry, blueberry and plum characteristics in youth, which evolve into mocha, truffles, exotic spices and tobacco. The wines have characteristic silky-textured tannins and a generous, mouth-filling style.

Lafleur’s finest vintages are supremely well balanced, with impressive concentration of aromas and flavours. Yet they have a delicateness and suppleness that dances across the palate, making them truly memorable wines.


Being comprised of 100 per cent Merlot, Petrus vintages are usually more approachable in youth than wines from the Left Bank based on Cabernet Sauvignon; but the wines manage to match their impressive longevity, combining opulence and approachability with depth and concentration.

Château Lafleur is unquestionably one of the leading lights of the Right Bank and undoubtedly produces some of the finest wines in Bordeaux. Its legendary older vintages are extremely rare and difficult to find — even more so than Petrus. Pre-war vintages of Lafleur are especially scarce.

Best vintages

Petrus from the very greatest years will continue evolving and improving for a long time to come. The legendary 1947 and 1961 Petrus, for example, continue to delight wine collectors who are lucky enough to taste them. Other exceptional, highly regarded vintages include 1921, 1929, 1945, 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1961, 1964, 1966, 1970, 1975, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Lafleur vintages such as 1945, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1955, 1961 and 1966 established its fine reputation. In more modern times, vintages such as 1975, 1979, 1982, 1985, 1989, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 have further cemented its status.

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‘Both should be in your cellar’

‘Very rarely do Petrus and Lafleur disappoint,’ says Triptree. ‘Even the less lauded vintages can be utterly delicious and beguiling, albeit not as long-lasting as the stellar years, which are unequivocally some of the finest wines ever produced.

‘In my opinion, Petrus is more consistently brilliant, yet Lafleur has vintages that are truly exceptional. What is without doubt, however, is that both should be in your cellar.’

Fine and Rare Wines Online: Featuring Historic Vintage Port from the Cellars of Raby Castle is open for bidding until 20 June 2024

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