2023 Bordeaux En Primeur – Mouton Rothschild, Le Petit Mouton, Clerc Milon, d’Armailhac & Aile d’Argent

UNTIL MY COMPREHENSIVE 2023 BORDEAUX EN PRIMEUR REPORT IS PUBLISHED IN FULL, I WILL NOTE DOWN MY FAVOURITE EARLY-RELEASE WINES FOR YOUR PERUSAL

Mouton Portfolio 2023

Château Mouton Rothschild (1er Cru Pauillac)

93 Cabernet Sauvignon, 7 Merlot: 100% new oak for 18 months: 13.3% alc: 3.79pH: 75 IPT: Harvested 7 – 30 September

While tasting with Technical Director Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy, I asked if this was the highest percentage of Cabernet ever in Mouton.  It is the second highest because the 2010 vintage boasted a mighty 94%.  Of course, tasting at Mouton is a privilege, and this is indeed a thrilling wine, but the position that this wine holds on one’s palate compared to last year’s 2022 makes this estate so utterly incredible.  I love that 2023 Mouton has no nerves as it sits in the glass awaiting analysis.  And then it starts: stylish, confident, cool, and multi-faceted.  While 2022 was built on ripeness, extract, and a larger dose of press wine, it is an imposing and magnificent creation, while 2023 is more linear, sleek, refined and finely honed.  It has what one might call a more classical framework, with a size 13, not 14 (we are talking alcohol, not dress size) body.  With a lower pH (higher acidity), lower sugar levels, and, accordingly, lower alcohol, this is a ravishing beast, and it packs intensity without weight and deceptive degrees of charm and lasciviousness despite the impeccably calm exterior.  It is a black hole wine.  There is so much flavour and power from a finite and focused source. The tannins pull with direction and persistence from the outer extremities of the flavour, and they build a boundless expanse of flawless Cabernet.  This happens when you harvest steadfast Mouton Cabernet in late September and decorate it with pristine Merlot.  This is a masterful, tense and gripping wine.  It does not hide chapters of flavour and intrigue in the folds of its robes, preferring to allow you to see everything on display, and the view is serene and sensational.  How can two consecutive vintages taste so similar yet so cosmically and irresistibly different?  Only at Mouton.  20+/20

Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild (Mouton Rothschild)

79 Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 Merlot, 7 Cabernet Franc, 2 Petit Verdot: 50% new oak for 18 months: 13.3% alc: 3.74 pH; Harvest 7 – 30 September

There is a hint of more musculature than expected on display in this restless wine.  Gone is the velvety sheen that a warmer vintage brings, and in place, we have more tension and glowering intent.   The perfume is spectacular, with trademark Mouton Cabernet thundering along at pace, then the tannins come in and bring the experience to a standing stop.  There is power matched with grace here, and yet it appears that the story on the palate follows the timeline of the vintage: generous and then firm and cool.  This is a mouth-wateringly spicy ‘The Other Mouton’, my nickname for this wine because there is nothing ‘Petit’ about it in 2023, and while it fires in all directions, there is trademark distinction here which will delight Mouton fans. This is not a diminutive Mouton in 2023, but another interpretation, and, interestingly, it comes from almost identical plots as last year’s wine, so perhaps L’Autre Mouton might catch on!  18+/20

Aile d’Argent Blanc (Mouton Rothschild)

50 Sauvignon Blanc, 44.5 Semillon, 5 Sauvignon Gris, 0.5 Muscadelle: 45% new oak for 9 months: 13.5% alc: 3.20 pH: Harvested 29 August – 6 September

This is a wonderfully magical wine, and while I understand that some of the Sauvignon Blanc missed the cut because it was a little too exuberant, the final assemblage has a halo of white flowers and silver needle tea over a teasing, fleetingly luxurious, but ultimately mineral, talcy and keen-edged core.  When one pops back to the glass, there is more and more to discover – intricate hues of lemon and lime, jasmine and pittosporum and it stops short of stone fruit and tropical notes, thank goodness!  A handful of top-class whites were made in 2023, and Aile d’Argent is up there with the finest.  18.5/20

Château d’Armailhac (5ème Cru Pauillac)

70 Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 Merlot, 13 Cabernet Franc, 2 Petit Verdot: 50% new oak for 18 months: 13.5% alc: 3.75 pH: Harvested 7 – 30 September

The weather in Pauillac was not as challenging as some said.  You only have to look at the beautiful Lafite Rothschild rainfall ‘artwork’ in this Report to see that it was not too pressured.  In fact, only 15% more rainfall than average fell in June, so mildew was not too much of a problem, particularly if you could keep your vineyards ‘clean’.  The heat spell in the third week of August assimilated some of the malic acid, and by early September, Merlot was ready to harvest.  They started on the 7th but only brought in a few plots as most of the thicker sins needed more hang time.  As it turned out, there was below-normal rainfall in September, and the 30mm that fell in the middle of the month reset the Merlots at 14.5-15% and stopped them ripening further instead of diluting flavours.  By the morning of the 23rd, they had only picked 32% of the crop: Merlot, some Cabernet Franc, and some younger vine Cabernet Sauvignon. All the Cabernet was picked under high pressure, with decent daytime temperatures balanced by cool nights. Some delicious Merlot made the cut, but the blend is built around a superb Cabernet Sauvignon core; in fact, it is the joint highest Cabernet Sauvignon recipe alongside the 2002 vintage. All the old vine Cabernet Franc was used, so just taking the varietal mix into account, this is a fabulously Cabernet-dominant wine, and the tannins are as firm as you would expect.  This modern classic has lithe flanks and a sleek feel throughout, topped with active acidity and integrated tannins.  It is not as dark as the Mouton duo, with some lovely red fruited highlights, and there is a coolness and faint mintiness, which refreshes the taste buds and perks up the senses.

As a postscript – I heard a great analysis of the critical human decisions made in September from Technical Director Jean-Emmanuel Danjoy. He noted that if you had a well-drilled vineyard team, you could confidently roll the dice in September. There would be a severe threat of botrytis if the predicted 90mm fell mid-month.  Even if 90mm did fall, great teams would have a small window to get in and harvest their crop.  D’Armailhac (including Mouton and Clerc Milon) can move fast, so there was no panic at all.  As it turned out, only 30mm fell, and as the fruit benefitted from a longer hang time, they trusted their vineyards and teams to let it all hang out!  All the great-tasting fruit across these estates was harvested at the end of September, so skill, experience and confidence won through!  Of course, Jean-Emmanuel hinted that these decisions depend on your psychology as much as your nerve, but he said it wouldn’t be fun without a bit of jeopardy thrown in for good measure, and this is why 2023 d’Armailhac is such an impactful wine.  18+/20

Château Clerc Milon (5ème Cru Pauillac)

72 Cabernet Sauvignon, 19 Merlot, 6.5 Cabernet Franc, 1.5 Carmenère, 1 Petit Verdot: 55% new oak for 18 months: 13.5% alc: 3.83 pH: Harvested 7 – 29 September

This is another wine in the ‘Mouton family that has driven the Cabernet Sauvignon percentage up in its blend.  It is as high as the 2019 and 1986, making these the purest of Cabernets, and they certainly do not lift their foot off the Pauillac pedal!  Every element is in its place, and the focussed blackcurrant fruit and gloriously spicy tannins bookend a marvellously opulent mid-palate.  The clarity of the fruit is glorious, and the results are quite beautiful.  18.5+/20

Pastourelle de Clerc Milon (second wine of Clerc Milon)

63 Merlot, 29 Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 Cabernet Franc, 2 Carmenère, 1 Petit Verdot: 0% new oak: 14.2% alc for 18 months: 3.70 pH

One look at the blend, and you will see that Pastourelle has mopped up a large amount of Merlot looking for a home in 2023.  Theoretically, this should make ’23 Pastourelle a juicy, ripe, opulent, and forward-drinking wine.  You will see elevated alcohol above, too, and no use of new oak, and this, too, adds to assumed flavour dimensions.  But this is somewhat counterintuitive; this is a structured, serious and grippy wine. The 29% Cabernet Sauvignon seems to have worked some voodoo on the large Merlot proportion, making it darker, lustier, and stricter on the finish.  This is a triumphant second wine, and I sense that the tannins will melt away early in the picture, leaving a wine that will trump a host of Left Bank Grands Vins that have dropped the ball in 2023.  17.5/20

MATTHEW JUKES SCORE CONVERSION CHART

As a wine taster and writer, I prefer you to read my words rather than focus on my scores.  This is why I rarely score wines unless I write an extensive report like this one.  I believe that scores taken from the context of tasting notes are essentially meaningless.  I describe my featured wines fully so you can imagine the aroma, shape and flavour.  Scores don’t help with this.  You will know that several different scoring methods are used in the global wine trade.  Most of my wine-writing colleagues have been tempted to the dark side, using the 100-point rating system.  A few, usually older types, cling to the venerable five-star rating.

As you know, I favour the 20-point score.  It’s how I was taught and dovetails nicely with how I judge wines.  For those unfamiliar with the 20-point scoring system, here is a table that translates it into various other formats.

20-point score100-point scoremedal5 star
20100perfect gold5
19.598/99gold5
1996/97gold5
18.595gold4
1893/94high silver4
17.591/92silver4
1789/90silver3
16.588high bronze3
1686/87bronze2
15.585bronze2
1583/84no medal1
14.581/82no medal1
1480no medal1