About this WINE
Chateau Mouton Rothschild
Vines first appeared on what is now known as the Mouton-Rothschild estate in the early 18th century. Throughout the 18th century and first half of the 19th the quality of the wines increased steadily, often equalling those of the other top wines of Bordeaux, save for a short period of decline in the 1840s. This temporary fall from grace was to cost Mouton its likely status as a First Growth wine when the 1855 Classification was published, since the rankings were decided upon by the prices the wines had been fetching in the market place.
The Rothschild family had bought the property in 1853, and its reputation was rapidly restored. The driving force, however, proved to be a later arrival, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, who assumed control in 1922. He was a dynamic figure who revolutionised much of the running of the estate. He was the first to introduce château-bottling, as early as 1924, and instigated the practice, after the Second World War, of employing a different artist each year to design the label. His greatest achievement was to have Mouton upgraded to 1st Growth Status in 1973, the only change ever to be made to the 1855 Classification. For decades the price of Mouton had matched, and frequently surpassed, that of the other First Growths, so the logic for the promotion was undeniable. Picasso was engaged to design that vintage’s label. Philippe died in 1988 and the estate passed into the hands of his daughter, Philippine.
The vineyard, comprising 75 hectares of mainly gravel-based soils, is planted to 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. Grapes are hand-picked, and the juice is fermented in barrel, not in vat. After fermentation the wine is aged in new oak for 22 months before bottling. Total production is 25-30,000 cases, split between Mouton itself and the second wine, Le Petit Mouton, established in 1993.
Critics who found the wines of the 1990s to be less than profound point to too high a percentage of the crop being used in the Grand Vin, compared to the other First Growths. However, in recent years, the Estate Director, Hervé Berland, has presided over a gradual tightening up of all the viticultural and wine-making practices, with the result that Mouton is once again restored to a position alongside the very best wines of Bordeaux.
In style the wines have immense appeal, with exotic, powerful aromas of cassis, minerals, tobacco leaf and graphite, backed by an opulence on the palate and impressive length on the finish. “Flamboyant” is a word sometimes used in tasting notes, and in comparative blind tastings this attribute is frequently what sets Mouton apart. What is sure is that Mouton has often produced the “wine of the vintage”, and under Hervé Berlaud’s direction the property looks sure to consolidate its status as one of the world’s greatest.
Bordeaux remains the centre of the fine wine world. The maritime climate on the 45th parallel provides for temperate winters and long, warm summers, perfect conditions for growing grapes suited to the production of classically-constructed, long-lasting wines. This vast region of 120,000ha of vineyards (four times the size of Burgundy) is home to 10,000 wine producers and 57 different AOCs. Red now makes up 88 percent of Bordeaux wine, and is usually referred to as Claret. The origin of this name was to differentiate the lighter-coloured wines of the coastal region from the deeper "black" wines from up-country regions.
The Left Bank, comprising the wine regions of the Médoc, Pessac-Léognan and Graves are planted predominantly with Cabernet Sauvignon, which thrives on the gravelly soils left by the ancient course of the river. This is a thick-skinned variety which ripens late, producing powerful, tannic wines capable of long ageing. It is blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and sometimes Petit Verdot. The highlights of the Médoc are the four communes of St- Estèphe (blackcurrant concentration); classical, cedarwood and cigar-box Pauillac; richly-fruited St Julien; and elegant, fragrant Margaux.
On the Right Bank, most famously in St-Emilion and Pomerol, it is the fleshy Merlot grape which prevails, sometimes supported by Cabernet Franc. Here the soils are more mixed, with gravel and clay underpinning the rich, fruity wines of Pomerol. Styles vary more in St-Emilion, depending on the predominance of sand in the lower-lying slopes, or limestone on the hillsides and plateau.
By the 18th century, individual properties - known as châteaux, however humble - were becoming known for the quality of their wines and in 1855, those of the Médoc (plus Haut-Brion, a property commended by Samuel Pepys as early as 1663) were classified into five levels of classed growths. Lafite, Latour, Margaux and Haut Brion were cited as First Growths, to whose ranks Mouton Rothschild was elevated by presidential decree in 1973. Beneath the ranks of the classed growths lies a raft of fine châteaux known as Crus Bourgeois, while a host of less well-known "petits châteaux" still makes attractive, enjoyable Claret at affordable prices.
The other jewel in the Bordeaux crown is the district of Sauternes, making some of the most outstanding sweet white wines in the world (from the likes of Châteaux d'Yquem, Rieussec and Climens). The foggy autumn mornings along the banks of the Garonne River near Sauternes and neighbouring Barsac enable the noble rot, botrytis cinerea, to form on the skins of the grapes, which can still ripen in the afternoon sun as late as the end of October or early November. The Sémillon grape is the prime component, but Sauvignon Blanc and a little Muscadelle are also planted to provide insurance if the weather is less favourable to Sémillon, as well as offering a counterpoint in flavour.
There are many inexpensive dry white wines - more Sauvignon than Sémillon - from regions such as Entre-Deux-Mers and Graves, with just a handful of outstanding properties located in Pessac-Léognan. The most famous of the great dry whites hail from Châteaux Haut Brion, Laville Haut Brion and Domaine de Chevalier.
The finer wines of Bordeaux are sold en primeur in the late spring following the harvest, some two years before the wines are ready for physical delivery. The châteaux offer their wines through a system of Bordeaux négociants (brokers) who sell them on to importers round the world. Prices vary enormously from one vintage to another, dependent on perceived quality and world demand, which shows no signs of diminishing, especially for the great years.
Cabernet Sauvignon lends itself particularly well in blends with Merlot. This is actually the archetypal Bordeaux blend, though in different proportions in the sub-regions and sometimes topped up with Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.
In the Médoc and Graves the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend can range from 95% (Mouton-Rothschild) to as low as 40%. It is particularly suited to the dry, warm, free- draining, gravel-rich soils and is responsible for the redolent cassis characteristics as well as the depth of colour, tannic structure and pronounced acidity of Médoc wines. However 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines can be slightly hollow-tasting in the middle palate and Merlot with its generous, fleshy fruit flavours acts as a perfect foil by filling in this cavity.
In St-Emilion and Pomerol, the blends are Merlot dominated as Cabernet Sauvignon can struggle to ripen there - when it is included, it adds structure and body to the wine. Sassicaia is the most famous Bordeaux blend in Italy and has spawned many imitations, whereby the blend is now firmly established in the New World and particularly in California and Australia.
Neal Martin - 31/01/2017
parts Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
Robert Parker eRobertParker.com #219 Jun 2015