Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Playground -- with Chateau d'Armailhac

Before we start: note the great interview with Matt Drudge, on the demoralizing effects of Facebook and YouTube ('I'll never have 2 billion followers'), on the fact that the internet itself means we will always have documentary evidence of free speech in "former" ages, and on the need for all of us to leave behind the "ghettoes" of comment sections anywhere, and treat the internet as the vibrant, controversial maelstrom-playground it ought to be. "Make your own playground."

Okay. I always like to listen to shrewd men, who made real changes in the world, speak on matters both within and without their fields of endeavor. "The reality of the situation is life on Earth has not changed. We need facts; we need events; we need specifics on things."

"Not all this confusion," Drudge goes on to say, although I differ with him there. Some confusion is good. In the public square it can mean that many ideas are on offer and everyone feels free to speak his mind. Far better that than to live the gently firm but gently ghastly lyrics of, for example, John Lennon's "Imagine," when "the wo-o-o-orld will live as one." Or else, one presumes.

Above, 2012 Chateau d'Armailhac, Pauillac (a subsection of Bordeaux); as the back label explains -- in French, which we will try to tease out -- Chateau d'Armailhac traces its origins to an 18th century family named Armailhacq (and we love the extra q, it looks somehow so medieval or Celtic), neighbors to Chateau Mouton Rothschild. In the famed Bordeaux classification of 1855, the Armailhacqs' "Chateau Mouton d'Armailhacq" earned "fifth-growth" status, which is to say, it was deemed one of only 18 chateaux, out of thousands in Bordeaux, excellent enough to warrant reckoning even among the fifth and last of the five groups classified. The upper four "crus," or growths, in ascending order, each included only ten, fourteen, fifteen, and four chateaux respectively.

Among the fifteen "second growth" chateaux was that neighbor of Armailhacq's, Mouton Rothschild. This latter has been the only chateau whose original classification was ever changed. In the 1920s the legendary Baron Phillippe de Rothschild took over his family's property and began, among other innovations, his lifelong campaign to persuade the French government to promote Mouton Rothschild from second- to first-growth status, a rank he thought it had always deserved. A decree was at last signed by the then minister of agriculture, Jacques Chirac, in 1973. So, wine books that give you easy-to-read charts of the 1855 Bordeaux classification will list fourteen "second growths" and five "first growths," to reflect Mouton Rothschild's unique promotion.

Along the way, Baron Phillippe also bought out two of his neighbors, our Armailhac (no q) in 1933, and Chateau Clerc-Milon in 1970. By the 1950s, our wine was called "Chateau Mouton Baron Phillippe," and then from 1975 to 1988, "Mouton Baronne Phillippe." Note the change in gender, from Baron to Baronne. One presumes this honors M. le Baron's wife, Pauline -- Madame la Baronne, "Mrs. Phillippe" you might say -- since his almost equally legendary daughter, also a baroness and also taking her turn as the chateau's director, was Phillippine In any case in 1989, the wine was rechristened as we see it: Chateau d'Armailhac.

But have you tasted it? I have, now. I will go out on a limb and try to make judgements about a cinquieme cru, fifth growth Bordeaux, not because I have so much experience of sampling these wines and therefore know what I'm talking about, but because the wine seems so assertive that it's almost impossible for anyone to misread. It would be like misreading Donald Trump. Barons and baronnes will be horrified at the analogy, but there it is. You don't have to have a wide experience of financiers/property developers/television stars/presidential candidates to decide what Donald Trump is saying and doing. It's the same with Chateau d'Armailhac. I can tell you, even though I've never deliberately cellared a wine in my life unless you count the bottle of Fenn Valley Capriccio that I neglected for a year and just opened a week ago (an aged Michigan chambourcin! Not bad. Not a lot different, and no worse than, many a simple, berry-like Italian ten-dollar red) -- I can tell you, I say, that today's Chateau d'A. is going to be excellent, -- perhaps in five years, or ten. But I can tell you it is far too young and leathery to be enjoyed now. The opening whiff above that inky-black pool in the glass, of barnyard, barnyard, and more barnyard, and we don't mean in a bad way, tells you that. Plan to have it with beef, garlic, and acorn squash on a fine autumn day in 2025.

Retail, about $50. 

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