ChChateau Duhart Milon vertical
1988-1990, 2008-2010, 2013
A fascinating vertical, looking at changes in the vineyard and cellars, and how they translated into the wine itself, over a 20 year time period. This was held at Chateau Lafite Rothschild in June 2014.
The wines were spread out ten years both before and after a key shift in the management of Duhart Milon that occurred in 2001; the first year that entirely different teams were working and harvesting at Lafite and Duhart, so ensuring that for the first time since the Rothschilds took ownership in 1962 Duhart has its own dedicated team (estate director Charles Chevallier said, ‘I saw an immediate and significant difference in quality at Duhart Milon’).
It was fitting, by the way, that Duhart-Milon should have passed back to the Rothschild clan, as the vines were used for the second wine of Chateau Lafite in the early 18th century, when Nicolas-Alexandre de Ségur was owner. Known at the time as Milon, and then Mandavy-Milon, the wine served as additional income for Lafite on a ‘fermage’ basis, as Ségur did not own the land but rented the vines. In 1815, courtier Guillaume Lawton was talking about Mandavy-Milon from the Milon hills as a fourth growth wine (he wrote that it ‘has a firm taste, a fine colour, and a pronounced sap’). Sometime in the 1830s, both Mandavy-Milon and Sir Duhart’s Pauillac vines were left to the Castéja negociant family, who unifed them to form Chateau Duhart-Milon.
The Castéja family remained owners when it was declared a Fourth Growth in the 1855 Classification, and during the early 20th century. From 1937, however, the property went through five different owners in just 25 years, splitting the vineyard each time for inheritance reasons, and the wine quality began to decline. When the Rothschilds bought in 1962, there was 110 hectares on the estate, but only 17 hectares were being used for vineyards (raised quickly to 57 hectares). As you would expect when a Rothschild gets involved, the investment situation was then set to change – drainage, uprooting and replanting in the vineyards, trading plots with neighbours to get the right mix for the wine, and new cellars and barrel rooms. Today there are 76 hectares of vines. The estate was around 50 hectares in 1855.
1988/89/90: ‘Les Trois Glorieuses’. Three excellent years in the Médoc, that here at Duhart expressed themselves well, despite the fact that at the time that vines were an average of just 15 years old after an extensive replanting programme. It is interesting to note how much better these three may well have been if the vines had been older at the time.
Chateau Duhart Milon AOC Pauillac 1988
Blend of 66% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot, 14% cabernet franc. This was before the intoduction of a second wine, so the majority of the harvest made its way in to the wine. The colour is still fairly deep, brick red, some burnt brick on the edge, but an attractively dark centre. Gorgeous old claret nose, blue cheese lingers in the mouth. This was made less than one year after the oenologist (and Duhart’s consultant winemaker) Emile Peynaud died, so this one was just Jacques Boissenot for the first time. Builds up in power in the mouth, but does not linger. This is still a subtle, charmingly pretty wine that I would suggest drinking now and over the next decade. 'At the time Lafite was the first priority and Duhart was vinified around the time left behind in the Lafite schedule,’ remembers Chevallier. Yields were 53 hl/h, 12%abv. 89/100. Recommended. Drink 2014-2025.
Chateau Duhart Milon AOC Pauillac 1989
Nose here cleaner and more focused than the 88, clear improvement in quality. Tastes a good five years younger than the 88. Still has blue cheese touches but tannins and acidity are higher and the whole thing is more pulled together and tight. Still subtle and soft tertiary flavours, I wouldn’t wait forever to drink this wine, but has another good ten to fifteen years ahead. (the ever quotable Chevalier says at this point, ‘after ten years, a traditional Pauillac may not have more qualities, but will have less obvious faults’). The wine transports rather than grabs you, get gentle menthol on the close of play here, lovely. 12.5%abv. 91/100. Highly recommended. Drink 2014-2035.
Chateau Duhart Milon AOC Pauillac 1990
Again a tiny switch up in quality in terms of the structure on the attack, although over the whole experience, the 1989 takes the edge. A warm year, feel there are plenty of tertiary flavours as with the 1989. The blend here is 75% cabernet sauvignon, 25% merlot. This again loads the pleasure up front; get a flavourful attack, tobacco and soft red fruits, plenty of complexity, then dips in the mid-palate so you almost give up and take another sip, but you are rewarded if you wait as the flavours do come back. 12.5%abv. 90/100. Highly recommended. Drink 2014-2030.
In the 20 year gap that follows before the next set of three wines in the tasting, the vineyards have of course aged, although as there was also some extensive complanting, and changes of clones, the vines here are an average of 30 years overall.
Chateau Duhart Milon AOC Pauillac 2008
Dense, inky, the difference in extraction from the earlier years is astonishing, even taking into account their advancing years. This is still so young, tannins a touch chalky and tight, love the subtlety that Duhart has, it tugs on your sleeve, asks you to give it a moment until it clears its throat and starts to speak. Creeps up on you slowly, then in come these wonderful dark plums and fig flavours. The tannins here remain unbending, but not overpowering. Blend is 73% cabernet sauvignon, 27% merlot – harvest late, in October, after a difficult summer that was followed by a beautifully warm September, allowing the grapes to ripen up before picking. 50% new oak. 13%abv. 93/100. Highly recommended. Drink 2019-2048.
Chateau Duhart Milon AOC Pauillac 2009
Again, the colour here is barely budging, the spectrum is more purple-red than violet, from a blend of 63% cabernet sauvignon, 37% merlot. This is charming, it is rich and deep and more caramelly than the others, much higher merlot than in a usual vintage at this estate – because the merlot was taking a leap in quality at this point (replanting had started with the cabernet sauvignon, so took this long for the merlots to jump up in quality as they got older.) Chevalier says that merlot was increased also to give Duart a little more roundness and charm. I have a touch of heat on this, would rather the merlot was lower personally. This is gorgeous, rich, smoky, but not my favourite in the line-up, I think because it tastes less like a Duhart than I would expect. 50% new oak. 13%abv. 92/100. Highly recommended. Drink 2019-2046.
Chateau Duhart Milon AOC Pauillac 2010
Here is a wonderful example of what can be achieved with Duhart. Rich, deep, lovely elegance and freshness, dark bitter chocolate, touches of bitter almonds, dark damson plums. This has the three parts in perfect balance, get the attack, the floating up in mid plate and still can build up in the finish, opening and building in layers. The blend returns to a higher proportion of cabernet sauvignon – 73% here, with 27% merlot, which for me feels a more natural ratio for respecting the personality of this Pauillac. Not the effortless quality of Lafite in this vinage perhaps, but extremely good, a wine that you can easily put away and not think about for the next decade, then bring out and tuck into, fully rewarded for your patience. 50% new oak (all the barrels by the way are from La Tonnellerie des Domaines; the Lafite’s onsite cooperage). 13.5%abv. 95/100. Highly recommended. Drink 2021-2050.
and last year's...
Moulin du Duhart AOC Pauillac 2013
Just the nose alone gives a remarkable difference in depth and structure of fruit between the first and second wine, as is typical in 2013. There are some stalky tannins on the nose here. Prettier in the mouth, structure has clean redcurrant and crabapple, clearly could have done with a few more days to ripen up, but this will offer pleasurable drinking over the next five years. 85/100. Recommended. Drink 2015-2019.
Chateau Duhart Milon AOC Pauillac 2013
Colour deeper, more vibrant, subdued nose but attractive mouthfeel. Just 25hl/h of wine produced. This is hugely better than the Moulin. Has silkiness and texture, firm plums and damson fruits, which although still on the ‘just ripe’ scale of flavours, are comfortably in the zone. This is a little severe, but with great promise. Blend is 80% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot. 91-92/100. Highly recommended. Drink 2019-2013.