I guess it is somewhat ironic that my last post from France is about the first Grand Cru that I ever tasted…Château Mouton Rothschild. Like all firsts in life, I remember it well. I was 26 years old visiting my uncle at his fishing camp in rural New Brunswick. I remember him coming up the stairs from the basement with a big smile on his face and announcing to me that we were going drink a spectacular wine tonight. It was the 1986 Mouton Rothschild. I remember everything about it. I remember the foil, the dust on the label from years of aging, the wine soaked cork and the sound it made when I pulled it out of the bottle. Most of all I remember the smell; the black inky graphite aroma wrapped in black fruit, leather, spice and cedar. I savoured every minute of it.
Maybe it was because of this experience or maybe it was the stories surrounding the Baron Philippe and his triumph of promoting Mouton from a 2nd growth to a Premier Cru that fascinated me, but when it came time to plan my trip to Bordeaux, visiting Château Mouton Rothschild was at the top of my list. Unfortunately, all the romance and dreaminess got beaten out of me pretty quick when I found out that the Château was undergoing a full-scale renovation and was closed to visitors. Normally this would be the end of the story, but a chance meeting with Todd Halpern (Mouton’s long time agent in Canada) provided the needed clout to get an invitation to (at the very least) have the opportunity to taste the most recent vintages of their Grand Vin and 2nd wine. What actually happened went way way way beyond any of my expectations.
Upon arriving at Mouton (yes I got lost on the way…stupid GPS) I was quickly ushered into the “temporary” tasting room. Standing before me were three bottles of wine with very odd looking labels; the first from Château d’Armailhac, the second from Château Clerc Milon and the third from Château Mouton Rothschild. It took me a second, but when I finally gave my head a shake I realized that I was looking at barrel samples of the 2010 vintage from all three of Baron Philippe de Rothschild’s premium properties. I had never tasted any wine straight from the barrel before, so getting to break into the big leagues by tasting these wines was well beyond my rookie dreams.
The first of the wines was the Château d’Armailhac. It was a dark purple/ruby colour and smelled of fresh blackberries, black plum, sage, leather and cedar. The palette carried a lot of the same flavours, but the tannins were unmistakable. They were definitely not the smooth silky version that you come to expect from premium Bordeaux with a bit of age on it. Even with my inexperience in tasting barrel samples you could tell that this wine was going to be very very good in a few years.
The second was the Château Clerc Milon. Of course the same pungent aromas of black fruit, spice and cedar where there, but the thing that blew me away was the intense acidity that this wine showed. I guess there is something in the theory that a wine with good acidity will keep the fruit fresh for a long long time. The tannins were young and aggressive, but without the greenness that affects lesser wine. Tasting this wine in its infancy really does give you a view into the elements that make up a good wine…fruit, acidity and tannins. It was actually a bit funny to see these three elements fighting with each other in the glass, like three toddlers fighting over a toy. Eventually they would grow up and share.
Finally it was time to taste the Château Mouton Rothschild. I am the first to admit that I am no expert on Mouton, but I have had the chance to taste a number of vintages and know its unique signature. This very young Mouton was very much part of the family already, but the intensity of the tannins and acidity were almost too much to deal with. The tannins literally muffled the black fruit, herbal notes, and smoked wood. This wine was a monster! Now I understand when critics like Parker, Suckling and Robinson can profess that a wine like this can last for 50 years. This was truly a treat to taste.
So here ends my French adventure. I know that there is much more to French wine that just Bordeaux, but as I have said you always remember your first. Bordeaux was my first and will always hold a special place for me. I look forward to returning to France soon and exploring all that France and French wine have to offer. Who knows…maybe some day I will move there permanently. France already has my heart; I guess it’s just a matter of time until it gets the rest of me.
Next week I am back to recommending great wines under $30. If you’re not following me yet on Twitter, you can find me at @adamsWOTW. Also, never miss an Adam’s Wine of the Week by clicking the “subscribe” button to receive an email notifying you when I post a new wine review.