Chateau Clerc Milon 2016
Blend: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Carmenere
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
Densely fruited with fine tannin support and a good deal of ready ripeness to its credit, this year’s Clerc Milon ups the ante in richness relative to past offerings and fully demonstrates the success of Pauillac in 2016. It is both concentrated and still fairly tight to finish and, in our estimation, is a claret that should be laid away in the cellar for a good five to ten years before it can be fully appreciated.
Chateau Clerc Milon, classified as a Fifth Growth in 1855, consists of 79 acres of vines, planted with the typical varieties of the region: 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 1% Carmenère. Adjoining two Pauillac First Growths, Lafite and Mouton, the estate had become somewhat neglected when it was bought by Baron Phillipe de Rothschild.
Convinced of the wine’s potential, Baron Philippe considered that Château Clerc Milon deserved a “rightful place” alongside the family’s two other wines, Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau d'Armailhac. He acquired the estate in 1970 and embarked on a meticulous renovation of the vineyard, drawing on the remarkable skills of the technical staff at Mouton, while reconstituting the estate by gradually buying up the parcels dispersed over the years from their countless owners.
Vines were replanted by staff from Chateau Mouton Rothschild, parcels were consolidated and many technical improvements were made, including the building of a new vat room. To renew the wine’s image and identity, he successively illustrated the Château Clerc Milon label with two decorative works by 17th and 18th century German goldsmiths taken from the Museum of Wine in Art at Chateau Mouton Rothschild: a Jungfraubecher, a silver-gilt marriage cup, until the 1982 vintage, then a pair of dancers made of precious stones. These efforts are now bearing fruit and Chateau Clerc Milon has become one of the most sought-after Médoc wines, displaying a richness and depth comparable with the region's finest.
The leader on the Left Bank in number of first growth classified producers within its boundaries, Pauillac has more than any of the other appellations, at three of the five. Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Mouton Rothschild border St. Estephe on its northern end and Chateau Latour is at Pauillac’s southern end, bordering St. Julien.
While the first growths are certainly some of the better producers of the Left Bank, today they often compete with some of the “lower ranked” producers (second, third, fourth, fifth growth) in quality and value. The Left Bank of Bordeaux subscribes to an arguably outdated method of classification that goes back to 1855. The finest chateaux in that year were judged on the basis of reputation and trading price; changes in rank since then have been miniscule at best. Today producers such as Chateau Pontet-Canet, Chateau Grand Puy-Lacoste, Chateau Lynch-Bages, among others (all fifth growth) offer some of the most outstanding wines in all of Bordeaux.
Defining characteristics of fine wines from Pauillac (i.e. Cabernet-based Bordeaux Blends) include inky and juicy blackcurrant, cedar or cigar box and plush or chalky tannins.
Layers of gravel in the Pauillac region are key to its wines’ character and quality. The layers offer excellent drainage in the relatively flat topography of the region allowing water to run off into “jalles” or streams, which subsequently flow off into the Gironde.
One of the world’s most classic and popular styles of red wine, Bordeaux-inspired blends have spread from their homeland in France to nearly every corner of the New World, especially in California, Washington and Australia. Typically based on either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot and supported by Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, these are sometimes referred to in the US as “Meritage” blends. In Bordeaux itself, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates in wines from the Left Bank of the Gironde River, while the Right Bank focuses on Merlot. Often, blends from outside the region are classified as being inspired by one or the other.
Tasting Notes for Bordeaux Blends
Bordeaux Blends are dry, red wines and generally have aromas and flavors of black currant, black cherry plum, graphite, cedar and violet. Cabernet-based, Left-Bank-styled wines are typically more tannic and structured, while Merlot-based wines, modeled after the Right Bank, are softer and suppler. Cabernet Franc can add herbal notes, while Malbec and Petit Verdot contribute color and structure.
Perfect Food Pairings for Bordeaux Blends
Since Bordeaux red blends are often quite structured and tannic, they pair best with hearty, flavorful and fatty meat dishes. Any type of steak makes for a classic pairing. Equally welcome with these wines would be beef brisket, pot roast, braised lamb or smoked duck.
Sommelier Secrets for Bordeaux Blends
While the region of Bordeaux is limited to a select few approved grape varieties in specified percentages, the New World is free to experiment. Bordeaux blends in California may include equal amounts of Cabernet Franc and Malbec, for example. Occassionally a winemaker might add a small percentage of a non-Bordeaux variety, such as Syrah or Petite Sirah for a desired result.