Even a Bordeaux first-growth takes a while to get up to speed with a new wine project. After a two-vintage hiatus, Bordeaux's Château Mouton-Rothschild has rereleased its Baron'arques red blend, from southern France's Languedoc region.
The grapes for Baron'arques come from the 17th-century estate formerly known as Domaine de Lambert, which was purchased by Baroness Philippine de Rothschild in late 1998 and renamed Domaine de Baron'arques. The estate's vineyards, located in the commune of St.-Polycarpe, were in such disrepair that it took five years to rehabilitate them and make them productive. (The first three vintages of the wine, 1998 to 2000, were made from locally purchased fruit.) The Domaine de Baron'arques Limoux Red 2003 (88 points, $33, 625 cases made), released this past summer, is the first product of this labor.
The Baron'arques 2003 label carries the Limoux Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, a status the region (located near the base of the Pyrenees mountains, south of Carcassonne) attained for the first time in that year. To qualify for the Limoux AOC status, a Limoux red must be made from Bordeaux and southern France grape varieties. The Baron'arques 2003 is a blend of 51 percent Merlot and various amounts of Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache.
The first three vintages were a learning experience for the Mouton team, and those years were time well spent. "It permitted us to understand the climate, the grapes and the people," said managing director Vincent Montigaud, who has been with Baron'arques since it was acquired.
Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, son of the Baroness and co-owner of Mouton, who helps oversee Baron'arques, said the goal is to produce a distinctive Languedoc wine. In stark contrast to Bordeaux, Baron'arques' 120 acres of vineyards are set amid a series of beautiful and rugged vales surrounded by oak and pine forests. The vineyards are located at elevations of 750 feet to more than 1,000 feet, lying at the juncture of the cooler, moister mountain climate and the warmer and drier influences of the Mediterranean.
Mouton is not the only Bordeaux-based wine company to expand to this unique region. Vineyard land is less expensive there, but Bordeaux producers are becoming increasingly attracted to the area for its potential as it begins to shed its reputation for mediocre wines. Domaines de Baron de Rothschild, the operating arm of Château Lafite Rothschild, recently launched a venture in Corbières called Château d'Aussières. Farther east, near Pezenasm, AXA Millésimes (owner of Châteaus Pichon-Longueville and Suduiraut) launched Château Belles Eaux Coteaux du Languedoc Sainte Hélène.
The quality of the new Languedoc wines has surprised the Bordelais winemakers themselves. "I didn't know we could a make a wine with such elegance and finesse," DBR managing director Christophe Salin said of the Aussières wines.
Still, Limoux brings challenges for those used to working with Cabernet and Merlot. "It's a different place than the Médoc. We can't replicate Bordeaux," said Sereys de Rothschild. The AOC's unique mix of required grapes "doesn't make it easy," he added. "[Fermentation] goes varietal by varietal."