It's been a tumultuous stretch lately at Château Mouton-Rothschild, with a new cellar recently completed, and the passing of the legendary Baroness Philippine. Yet if anything could power forward through rough seas, it would be the S.S. Mouton-Rothschild.
For background on Mouton and its sister properties, reference my 2013 en primeur blog entry. For background on its savvy and smart director, Philippe Dhalluin, see our 2005 profile on him. Suffice it to say, Dhalluin has indeed reshaped and refined the wines here, from grand vin Mouton to the Aile d'Argent. The competition among the first-growths is always fascinating and always about splitting hairs—but for outright purity of fruit, I'd put Mouton a full hair ahead of the pack.
"2014 started really well. Flowering was perfect—homogenous and complete. June, July ideal," said Dhalluin. "Then August is when it changed, as it turned cooler with less sunshine. But it was drier than average. Then by end of August and through September and the entire harvest the sun returned. The key is that the sun arrived at the beginning of the maturity and then it was a long ripening process. The result was all the grape varieties did well, even Merlot, which in the upper Médoc is not always the best. And we could wait for each grape, unlike '13 when we had to rush. Harvest was spread out over nearly four weeks, which is a full week longer than usual. Being able to wait is ideal. In the end, 90, maybe 95 percent of the grapes we brought in were over 13 degrees [potential alcohol], which especially for Cabernet Sauvignon up here is notable."
The 2014 Château d'Armailhac Pauillac is a 50/36/12/2 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, a higher proportion of Merlot than usual. This textbook Pauillac is brisk and pleasantly taut. It's bright, juicy and engaging, with a nice racy damson plum and red currant core striped with singed cedar and vanilla and backed by a good twinge of iron.
On the other side of Mouton, and both closer to the river and St.-Estèphe, lies Clerc Milon.
"The soil is slightly richer in clay than d'Armailhac, so the wine is richer in sugar, acidity and tannins. Yes, closer to the St.-Estèphe side [typically more austere in profile], but austerity is also a result of maturity, and Clerc Milon with its soils delivers more ripeness."
The 2014 Château Clerc Milon Pauillac has less Merlot than usual because the old-vine Merlot here is very low-yielding. It's plumper and fleshier in feel than the d'Armailhac, with a core of fresh plum, blackberry and red cherry fruit lined with alder and dark tea notes. A long iron note is well buried and the tannins feel rounder and more supple. It should be delicious down the road.
The second wine of Mouton is the 2014 Château Mouton-Rothschild Le Petit Mouton de Mouton-Rothschild. Representing nearly one-third of the crop, slightly more than usual, this 93/7 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot has a lightly dusty frame, but is plump overall, with delightful plum, raspberry and red currant fruit at the core. Singed alder and vanilla notes are subtle and nicely integrated, with a very elegant feel through the finish.
"And to think, 20 years ago, plots of Cabernet that went to Mouton are now in the Petit Mouton," said Dhalluin.
Once again the grand vin 2014 Château Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac captures the pure, distilled essence of Cabernet Sauvignon, with a racy core of red and black currant fruit that struts almost alone, but there's ample roasted apple wood and iron deeply buried in the background which should emerge with time. The finish has terrific delineation, with a mouthwatering edge despite clearly abundant tannins. Despite its depth and power, the focus on purity in this wine is what is most impressive over the past several vintages.
Do not overlook the white here. The 2014 Château Mouton-Rothschild Bordeaux White Aile d'Argent blend of 65/35 Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon was blended just two days prior to my visit. One of the few dry white Bordeauxs to see any malolactic (about 12 percent in 2014), the wine remains fresh and racy, with lemon granité, white peach and chamomile notes backed by a light twinge of tarragon. It's bright, pure and refreshing—yet another wine in this portfolio that has improved under Dhalluin's watch.
The renovated chai at Mouton-Rothschild is a monument to both Baroness Philippine and her father.