Finding Value in Fifth Growth Bordeaux

Today’s Story: Château d’Armailhac

Château d’Armailhac is a historic Fifth Growth Bordeaux estate located in Pauillac. Though the estate traces its roots to at least 1680 and brothers Dominique and Guilhem Armailhacq, the first solid record of vines on the property came later in 1750 and included 15 to 16 hectares of vineyards. By the end of the 1700s, the estate (called Mouton d’Armailhacq) benefited from the rapid growth of vineyards in the Médoc and grew to 52 hectares under vine, though the wines were not very highly regarded. The team spent the next several decades working tirelessly on improving the quality of the wines and were ultimately rewarded with higher prices and classification as a Fifth Growth in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. Later, in 1931, Baron Philippe de Rothschild became a minority owner in the estate and took full ownership in 1933. Château d’Armailhac is tightly woven together with Château Mouton Rothschild, with the former holding all technical and agricultural equipment for both estates in their outbuildings. In 1956 the estate was renamed Mouton Baron Philippe, then Mouton Baronne Philippe, and finally Château d’Armailhac in 1989 when Baroness Philippine de Rothschild elected to restore the estate’s original name.

Today, Château d’Armailhac’s vineyards total 70 hectares in northern Pauillac and they are planted to roughly 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. The estate’s vineyards are made up of the appellation’s famous deep gravelly soil which is perfect for producing wines of character and elegance. Come harvest, the process begins when the same team of Château Mouton Rothschild deems the fruit ready and all picking is done completely by hand. Each variety and each parcel moves to the winery separately, the grapes are entirely destemmed, and young vine fruit is vinified separately from old vine fruit. The wines age in 25% new oak barrels, with some coming from the Grand Chai of Château Mouton Rothschild, and they are run off every three months until fining with egg whites. Each vintage is only bottled when the winemakers and cellar master deem the wine is ready, so there is no strict formula or timeline for barrel aging.

Previously, I wrote about Château d’Armailhac when I reviewed the 1978 Château Mouton Baronne Philippe. If you care to read about how these wines can age, I encourage you to check out the tasting notes at the link above.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Château d’Armailhac

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot; 13.5% ABV

The 2014 Château d’Armailhac is opaque deep ruby in color, showcasing its youth. When I first pulled the cork, I was nervous this wine was an off bottle showcasing some pronounced nutty and oaky characteristics. However, given three hours to decant my worries were unwarranted and the wine blossomed beautifully. On the nose, which is of medium intensity, I get aromas of crème de cassis, redcurrant, black plum, violet, leather, graphite, cigar box, black pepper, clove, and cedar. Meanwhile the palate, which is deeper and more pronounced in intensity, showcases notes of redcurrant, blackcurrant, black cherry, red plum, licorice, tobacco, dried green herbs, green pepper, vanilla, and clove. This dry red is full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $60 (I paid 49). I think this wine offers decent value for Pauillac and the greater Left Bank, especially at the sub-$50 price I found it for. While I would like a bit more intensity out of the nose, I still get all the classic Pauillac aromas and the overall balance of the wine is quite good. 2014 Bordeaux is really starting to show well, and I think this is a great effort from d’Armailhac.

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