The cellar renovation continues at Château Mouton-Rothschild, though under the Baroness Philippine de Rothschild's order, no one is allowed to see it until it is finished. The plan is to have it complete in time for VinExpo 2013.
In the meantime, director Philippe Dhalluin continues to put Mouton and its sister properties on a path to a distinctly pure profile. The 2009 here was distilled Cabernet essence, the 2010 a step ahead of that, and the 2011 an unqualified success for the vintage.
"In 2011, there were two challenges. The first was to get the ripeness as usual," said Dhalluin of the 2011 growing season. "Because summer was lacking sun, we decided to delay harvest by 10 days the theoretical date, from Sept. 2, according to calculations, to Sept. 12. The second was extraction, with very low yields due to the drought. Especially with Cabernet Sauvignon, the berries were very small and so the tannins were prevalent. With lower alcohols than '09 and '10, this character of the tannins would be elevated, and so we had to be careful. We did only one rémontage (pumping over) per vat, because the volume in the vats was 20 percent less than normal."
"We also used an optical sorter, which eliminated 10 percent of the crop. That percentage seemed high to us, so we analyzed the eliminated grapes and it turned out the alcohol degree was very low. They weren't ripe. So, the machine was catching things that the human eye could not."
The Château Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac Le Petit Mouton de Mouton-Rothschild 2011 (70/30 Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) is supple, with nice charming cherry and plum perfume and good focus to the cassis and blackberry fruit backed by a stylish finish (90-93 points, non-blind).
The Château d'Armailhac Pauillac 2011 (57/28/13/2 Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) is showing its wood today, with singed mesquite and toasted spice leading the way, but an ample core of cassis and plum waits in reserve. The fresh finish has nice lift. (Note: Official scores and reviews for d'Armailhac and Clerc Milon, based on blind tastings, will appear after my full-scale tastings this week.)
The Château Clerc Milon Pauillac 2011 (54/37/7/1/1 Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carmenère) sports a nice sappy, kirschy feel, with good vibrancy to the violet and high-toned spice notes along the edges. There's a nice iron edge starting to show as well. This is the wine you use to introduce someone to Pauillac.
"This is the wine of ours with the highest acidity, as usual, and I think you really feel that in '11," said Dhalluin of the Clerc Milon.
All of the 2011s have woken up quickly, thanks to the bright, beautiful spring weather now prevailing in the region. That wasn't the case just a month ago.
"February was very, very cold, and the cellar was 3° C for a few days. This meant the wines were really stopped in their élevage and the CO2 stayed in the wine. Ultimately, as the wine expands as it warms up in the spring and finally breathes, it accentuates the feeling of freshness and acidity," said Dhalluin. "That cold February was a benefit."
The Château Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac 2011 is a 90/7/3 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, which means the grand vin has Cabernet Franc for the first time since 2005.
"Cabernet Franc is the most difficult variety to blend, because it's lower pH makes it hard to assimilate early. It lends a salty feel sometimes," said Dhalluin. "It usually goes into Petit Mouton. But in '11 we were very happy with the quality. With the hydric stress we had in '11, the Merlot was the variety that struggled. But the Cabernet Franc had density, structure, flavor and freshness. I may have taken a little risk with it in the blend, but I really feel it added to the Cabernet Sauvignon and gave the wine that lift." The 2011 Mouton delivers a pure beam of cassis, raspberry and cherry with lightly toasted spice and a nicely firm plum skin edge holding sway on the finish. It's stretched out somewhat already, seems nicely tuned and has nice buried minerality (93-96, non-blind).
Overall, Dhalluin likens the vintage to '01 and '86, the latter in particular for the style of tannins, which were forceful and quick to arrive in the wines and then took some time to soften.
The Château Mouton-Rothschild Bordeaux White Aile d'Argent 2011 (60/38/2 Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle) is very aromatic, with lots of fresh white peach, straw and verbena and a long quinine thread on the finish. It's very minerally, mouthwatering and crunchy in feel (90-93, non-blind).
"Hot and dry is a problem for whites, but 2011 was cool in the second half of the summer, so the white grapes kept their acidity. 2011 is on a level with 2007 for the whites," said Dhalluin.
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Chase Kramer — Philadelphia, PA, USA — April 2, 2012 6:07pm ET
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