Tasting Mouton Rothschild 2012 from barrel with director Philippe Dhalluin

It was a cloudy and rainy Thursday morning at Chateau Mouton Rothschild when wine writer and Decanter.com editor Adam Lechmere joined me to visit Chateau Mouton Rothschild to taste the 2012 wine from barrel. As usual during en primeur tastings at this renowned estate, we were led to and boarded a small golf cart that was driven to the lovely tasting room, decorated with artistic sculptures and tapestries.

Adam Lechmere contemplates his inner Bacchus at Chateau Mouton Rothschild

Director Philippe Dhalluin spoke to us about tasting conditions in general and the vintage in particular in the video below.

But first, brief tasting notes – also on Chateau d’Armailhac, Chateau Clerc Milon and Aile d’Argent, the estate’s white wine. Generally, the quality of Cabernet Sauvignon that was harvested was better than in 2011, according to Dhalluin, who  explained that the optical sorting machine used – on the same settings as last year – had sorted out 8% of the grapes in 2011, but only 3% in 2012.

While the year proved difficult for Merlot (uneven flowering, weakness in the face of the drought), Cabernet Sauvignon did better than many expected – handling dry weather conditions far better. The skins of the Cabernet were nonetheless thick and the resulting barrel samples are marked more by tannic bite and structure. To give a bit more “fat to the bones” as Dhalluin explained, harvesters had delayed picking for 10 days, starting in October rather than late September, as would have been expected. Because of the strong performance of the Cabernet, Chateau Clerc Milon, for example, will have among the highest proportions ever of Cabernet Sauvignon, at 60%. Mouton Rothschild will be 90% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Barrel samples at Mouton Rothschild

D’Armailhac: The nose is quite cedary with red fruit, the attack is frank, marked by red fruit, the tannin is noticeable, there is structure coming to the fore, the finish is of moderate length. 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot

Clerc Milon: The most Cabernet Sauvignon “since the 1980s” Dhalluin remarked. Nose is very fresh and charming, dark red fruit (cherry) and stony notes and crushed tobacco. The attack is rather bright, cedar, red fruit on the mid palate, a bit more succulence than d’Armailhac, then structure and a tannic edge on the finish which lingers longer. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 1% Carmenere

Le Petit Mouton: Garden flower aromatics, sandalwood precede a rather tight palate feel, where the structure predominates. At this point, Adam and I were looking at the weather and asking ourselves if it was affecting our impressions of the wines? In any case, the mid palate shows sap, but the broad tannins lead to a rather closed impression overall. 79 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc

Mouton Rothschild: Graphite and dark fruit, a certain ‘creaminess’ or richness on the nose that is inviting, the attack is subtle yet full on, as Mouton would be, with blackberry and graphite. The mid palate has a layering aspect, enveloping the palate with flavor, but the opulence is contained by the structure, which, again, dominates here. “Rich yet disciplined” was my overall impression, but what I most liked about this wine was a building graphite flavor coming from the dominance of the Cabernet. The small berries, thick skins coming from drought in 2012, reminded Dhalluin of the 1995 vintage character. Harvest delayed about 10 days to get more richness. After bottling, this will very likely have a “shut down” period before turning out to be savory as well as structured. Although not attaining the excitement levels of a vintage like 2009 or 2010, this should turn out to be quite a fine bottle of Mouton Rothschild. Let’s hope prices go down enough…

Aile d’Argent (white): I like the fruit cocktail nose of this barrel sample, a blend of 63% Sauvignon Blanc and 37% Semillon, although there may be some Muscadelle in the mix. As with some other whites I have tried already, 2012 has a certain lack of focus – when compared to 2011 – that detracts from “ranking by vintage” but the feel on the palate is overall fresh and flavorful.

Video with Adam Lechmere and Philippe Dhalluin


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