Visit to Château Clerc Milon in Pauillac

The terrace of the new building of Clerc Milon, on top of the winery itself and the barrel cellar. It sports a view of their own vineyards, the D2 road, and the lands of Lafite Rothschild.

When I attended Le Weekend des Grands Crus, the well-packed annual visitors’ weekend for us mere mortals in Bordeaux, in May 2012, one of the châteaux I visited was Clerc Milon with its completely new winery. Yes, they year was indeed 2012, so it’s another post featuring “tasting notes lost and found”, but for good measure I’ve added a single tasting note from the 2013 edition of the same event just a few months ago. I gave a few words of introduction to Le Weekend… and its 2012 edition in my post on the Sauternes 2009 part of the grand tasting.

Château Clerc Milon is situated in the Pauillac appellation, and was classified as a fifth cru in the classification of 1855. Since 1970, it is owned by the branch of the Rothschild family that also owns Château Mouton-Rothschild. The owning company is called Baron Philippe de Rothschild S.A. (information on the individual châteaux and brands can be found on their website) and they also produce simpler wines such as Mouton Cadet. The reason that the Rothschilds are happy to show Clerc Milon is probably the completely new and top-notch winery, inaugurated in 2011. The design of the winery building is very rational for its purpose, but still somewhat eye-catching. However, there is no “proper château”, as in “large and luxurious mansion”, belonging to the Clerc Milon property.

The equipment for optical sorting of the grapes is the module in the middle with the text “Delta Vistalys”. The module to the left, with the text “Delta E”, is a destemmer.

I noted that they had an optical sorting machine from Bucher Vaslin, which is the state of the art in high tech winemaking. This type of equipment has only been available for a couple of years, and apparently the first commercial installations were made in Bordeaux in 2009. In the processing line for the harvested grapes, it is located after the destemmer, when the bunches have been broken up into individual grapes fed forward on a conveyor belt. The stream of grapes is continuously monitored by a video camera (apparently against a blue background), and by means of imaging processing software, those grapes that are to be kept or discarded are chosen in real time. It is possible to sort by e.g. size and colour, and foreign objects (such as twigs and other plant material) are identified by their different shape. That which is to be discarded is simply blown aside by means of a line of pressurized air nozzles, and the remaining grapes continue forward to the crushing. In this way, much of the work that otherwise requires a manual sorting table, can be automated. For more information, have a look at the video at the end.

Clerc Milon has 41 hectares (101 acres) of vineyards, planted with 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, and 1% Carmenère, and with a high planting density of 10 000 vines per hectar. The varietal composition is rather typical for Médoc in general, but it is not uncommon for the proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon to be a bit higher than this in Pauillac. The wines are raised 16-18 months in oak, and about 30% new oak is used, which is rather moderate for a cru classé.

Another Pauillac fifth cru with the same owner is Château d’Armhailac. The difference in style between Clerc Milon and d’Armailhac is that Clerc Milon tends to be somewhat firmer and have a higher acidity, while d’Armailhac is somewhat more fruity and softer in style. This may not be the difference expected considering that d’Armailhac has slightly more Cabernet Sauvignon in their vineyards than does Clerc Milon, 53% versus 49%, but the soils and topography differ somewhat between their vineyards.

Labels of 2010s with a drawing of the new winery. I hadn’t seen this label design on labels sold, but I suppose they will change to this look for vintages produced there. As pictured below, they previously had two dancing jesters on the label, or buffons dansants as the French caption specifies them to be.

I definitely liked Clerc Milon, and on the margin I prefer it to d’Armailhac. The difference is more one of style than of basic quality or value for money, as they tend to cost about the same and receive similar scores from international wine critics. Perhaps Clerc Milon could be called “modern classic” in style: well made, concentrated and definitely with good fruit, but not overoaked, sweetish or with too much alcohol, but on the other hand with a fresh acidity.

Wines tasted during the visit (May 2012):

Château Clerc Milon 2011 – barrel sample
Nose with blackcurrants, slightly flowery (violets), som tar, “sour berry” rather than “sweet berry” notes. On the palate again blackcurrants, some red berries, good concentration, noticeable acidity, powerful but rather polish tannins, firm finish. Good freshness. 90-92 p?

Clerc Milon 2005 with the previous label design, used since the 1982 vintage, including the buffons dansants.

Château Clerc Milon 2005
Nose with blackcurrants, definitely flowery, freshly sharpened pencil, discrete tar notes, developed notes starting to emerge with some barnyard aromas; a fine nose. Quite concentrated on the palate, blackcurrants, discrete sweetness of fruit, noticeable but rather polished tannins, good acidity. Fruity and tannic aftertaste. Young, but somewhat approachable, in particular with respect to the nose. 92+ p.

Château Clerc Milon 2003
Nose with blackcurrants, some red berries, some tar, noticeable development with mild spice, smoke, leather but not too much barnyard. Palate with blackcurrants, quite concentrated, some sweetness, rather massive tannins, some acidity, and an aftertaste with fruit, sour berries and tannins. Still young, tough on the palate. 90+ p.

Definitely a tougher palate than the 2005, and not as classical as the other vintages tasted. Clearly influenced by the hot 2003 vintage, but not in an extreme way.

Tasted the day before (May 2012), during the grand tasting:

Château Clerc Milon 2009
Nose: blackcurrants, hints of mild spice, some tar.
Palate: rather concentrated, blackcurrants, spice, rather tough but polished tannins. Young, 91-92+ p.

Château Clerc Milon 2006
Nose: blackcurrants, some red berries, hints of mild spice, some barnyard aromas.
Palate: medium bodied, dark and red berries, rather tough tannins. Rather young,  89-90 p.

Tasted at the 2013 edition of Le Week-end des Grands Crus (May 2013):

Château Clerc Milon 2010
Nose: dark berries, some sweet liquorice, discrete flowery notes.
Palate: dark berries, good concentration, medium++ tannins, good balance. Young, needs time, 91+ p.

I might add that this note was taken during the latter part of the tasting, when I no longer felt 100% reliable with respect to scoring.

Tasted blind in a mixed theme tasting with AuZone (August 2012):

Château Clerc Milon 1999
Medium red colour, lighter red at the rim. Nose with barnyard aromas, dark and some red berries, slightly flowery, rather elegant, wonderful development. Good concentration on the palate, some sweetness of fruit, red and some dark berries, spice, softened but still rather noticeable tannins. Has prbably peaked, but can definitely take more cellaring. 90 p.

And finally a video clip from Bucher Vaslin showing optical sorting of grapes.

The Swedish version of this post can be found here.

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