On Wednesday afternoon I visited Château Mouton Rothschild, the famed Pauillac estate, ranked a First Growth since 1973.
Here’s a quick overview of the château …
Vineyard: 86 hectares
Terroir: gravel and sand
Grape Varietals: 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot
Average Age Of Vines: 46 years old
Average Yields: 40 to 50 hectoliters per hectare
Vinification: Approx. 1-week fermentation in oak vats, followed by an 18-day maceration; pump overs are employed for extraction, with very limited déléstage, depending on the lot and the year; nearly 100% of the malolactic fermentation takes place in the oak vats; the wine is then blended and transferred to 80 to 100% oak barrels where the aging proceeds for roughly 18 months.
Annual Production: (first label) 200,000 to 300,000 bottles, (second label, Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild) approx. 43,000 bottles, (white label, Aile d’Argent) approx. 13,000 bottles
A snap shot of the Château’s history …
In 1853 Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild purchased Château Brane-Mouton, renaming it Château Mouton Rothschild. In 1922 Baron Nathaniel’s great-grandson Baron Philippe de Rothschild purchased the property. In 1924, Baron Philippe was the first person to begin the practice of estate bottling. Prior to this period most wine was sent to Great Britain for bottling. Continuing to expand his holdings, in 1933, Baron Philippe purchased Château Mouton d’Armailhacq, a Fifth Growth 1855 classification, which was renamed Château d’Armailhac. There is little doubt that Baron Philippe has left the largest impact on the estate, taking over at the tender age of 21 and quickly implementing many aggressive and ambitious changes. His masterpiece was completed in 1973 when he became the first person to ever (still to this day) successfully lobby for a change in the 1855 Classification. The change resulted in Château Mouton Rothschild receiving a First Growth classification, among the original four—Haut-Brion, Lafite, Latour, and Margaux. Prior to the change, the always charismatic and slightly ostentatious Baron printed on every label (in French of course), “First I cannot be, second I will not call myself, Mouton I am”. After the First Growth recognition, the label was altered to read, “First I am, second I was, Mouton does not change”. In 1988 Baron Philippe died and his daughter Baroness Philippine took over the estate. Baroness Philippine’s deep passion had always been acting and theatre. After attending theatre school she began working as an actress in the 1970s. In the 80s she jumped on board as an ambassador for the estate, travelling the world, hosting art exhibits and various events, promoting the history and wine of Mouton Rothschild. Equally charismatic, although less directly involved in the technical operations, the Baroness works very closely with the renowned Mouton team—led by Hervé Berland, General Director of the chateaux’ operations; Xavier de Eizaguirre, General Director of business operations; and Philippe D’Hallein, Technical Director in charge of viticulture and winemaking for the entire Baron Philippe Rothschild family of estates. All in all, the Baroness presides over six estates—Mouton Rothschild, Château Clerc Milon (Pauillac), Château d’Armailhac (Pauillac), Opus One (California), Almaviva (Chile), and Domaine de Baron’Arques (Saint-Polycarpe)—and more than 10 separate labels, including Vin de Pays, Bordeaux AOC, Chilean varietal bottlings, and the internationally recognized Mouton Cadet. In terms of the legacy of the Rothschild’s English blood, the Baroness Philippine has two sons, Philippe and Julian, and one daughter, Camille. Philippe is in line to take over the estate when and if the Baroness ever grows tired of running her wine empire.
Mouton’s success and global eminence is often attributed to three key factors. First, since 1945 (up to present day), Baron Philippe began commissioning world famous artists to design each year’s unique label. Each bottle is considered a collector’s item, not only for the cherished juice inside, but also for the artwork printed on each label. The list is large but some of the more famous artists, who have designed past labels, include Chagall, Cocteau, Huston, Miró, Motherwell, Picasso, and Warhol. Second, the wine itself is characterized quite uniquely from its fellow First Growths. Whereas Mouton is known for its opulence, Lafite is generally considered to be much more austere and elegant, and Latour is typically a powerful and tannic wine. Third, the Château’s facilities have been maintained to near perfection and along with the wine museum, the estate has become possibly the number one most visited tourist attraction in Bordeaux.
Before jumping to the tasting, lemme drop two quick fun facts … One, contrary to what many people logically assume, the origin of “Mouton” is not the French word of the exact same spelling, which means sheep. The actual origin comes from the old French word “Motton”, which means hill. The estate rests on top of a very small hill. Although the elevation is very low, the hill is high enough to provide room for fun fact number two … the underground cellars. In fact Château Mouton Rothschild is the only estate in Bordeaux with underground cellars. These cellars are used for the last 12 months of the oak barrel aging; and additionally, they house the estate’s wine library and the personal wine cellar of Baroness Philippine.
OK so I lied. I think a third fun fact is in order … There are a lot of stories behind the various label designs; however, there are two labels, pictured below, which I find interesting for various reasons. The 1993 label was banned in the USA, since it depicted a nude female. I can’t help but think back on the Janet Jackson nip slip incident during the 2004 Super Bowl. I mean what the heck has gone wrong with our society that we must stigmatize to such a degree the naked body?! OK sorry, enough with the politics. The second label of note is the 2000, which is the only vintage ever to not carry a label in the standard sense. To celebrate the new millennium and what was already known to be a classic vintage, Baroness Philippine contracted an artist to design an engraving for the bottle.
Voilà my tasting of the 2008 vintage …
2008 Château Mouton Rothschild
Tasting Notes: (in barrel) 83% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Merlot. 100% new oak. 35% of the harvest was used for this first label. A very rich, bright and fruity nose with nice complexity and notes of cassis, black berry, earth and forest floor. Showing sweet and bitter tannins in the mouth, this wine is thick and dense and the bitterness grows on into the mid palate and through to the long finish. The finish is almost rubber band like, however, this will surely dissipate with age and the great balance suggests that this wine will develop very nicely for 10 to 20 years. There are flavors of leather, toasted espresso, smoke, mocha coffee, black berries and licorice.
Rating: 16-17/20 (WS 91-94)